But in her case, that hadn’t been true. M’Adoc had stayed by her side, trying to protect her family. That was how he’d been captured and then tortured. He would have been able to escape and save himself. Instead, he’d chosen to come warn her and to stand with her when Dolor and his minions had attacked.
They’d almost killed him too.
"And if I wasn’t alone?" she asked, her voice only a whisper.
"Then imagine them taking the one who stood with you. Imagine your defender’s blood on your hands as they stab him through his heart."
It was enough to make her want to scream and it gave her the rage he spoke of.
Aidan was right. If he could, Dolor would kill M’Adoc in an instant.
"I don’t know how to defeat Dolor," she confessed. "The best I could do last time we fought was to freeze him and make him the slave to a human’s summons. I thought by doing so no one would be so stupid as to release him. Now that they have… I don’t know how to return him to stasis until after he completes his task."
"And that is?"
"To kill you-and I won’t let that happen."
Aidan was glad this was a dream. Otherwise he might think himself insane. But as the purple surf crashed against a crystal beach he knew he was safe. There was no reality here. There was just Leta and him.
Still, he was curious about why his subconscious would create all of this. "You said my brother conjured him to kill me."
"He did this from prison?" It made as much sense as anything else.
"He must have. Can you think of anyone else who’d want you dead to the point they’d give up their soul for it?"
Aidan gave a bitter laugh. "The list of those who hate me is lengthy, but those who want it to that extreme is much shorter. You’re right. Donnie stands out among the really big haters."
Aidan sat quietly thinking about the tragedy of his past. After the death of their parents, he and Donnie had ended up being raised by their alcoholic uncle. As a single parent, the man had left much to be desired and basically Aidan and Donnie had always joked that they’d been raised by wolves.
All they’d had was each other. He still couldn’t believe what something as petty as jealousy had done to his brother. How it could take a guy who’d once taken punches for him and turned him into a cold-blooded user who was willing to do anything to hurt him. It didn’t make sense.
And now this…
No wonder his dreams were so whacked out. He was still reeling from the betrayal and obviously his subconscious continued to try and reconcile all of it.
Those thoughts reminded him of his early years in Hollywood. "One of the first movies I appeared in was a zombie flick. I remember that in the film, if you killed whoever was controlling the zombie, you took out the zombie too. Would this work the same way?"
Leta scowled at him. "Are you willing to kill your own brother?"
He didn’t even hesitate with his answer. "Blood stopped binding us the instant he came at my throat. If this thing is stalking me because of him, then I’m more than ready to slash his throat and laugh while he bleeds to death at my feet. Give me the knife and stand back."
Leta let out a slow breath at the hostility in his tone. She should be appalled by his brutality, and yet she understood the sentiment.
"Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in this case. Dolor isn’t a zombie. He’s an ancient god who is only held in check by a curse I put on him."
"Can’t you put him back in stasis?"
She shook her head. "Not so long as you’re standing. The strongest curse I could find would only work so long as the summons wasn’t in place."
He narrowed his gaze on her. "Who the hell came up with this brilliant curse?"
"It was the best I could manage in a hurry," she said defensively.
He rolled his eyes. "With those kinds of critical assessment skills you should consider running for political office."
Before she could respond, a loud growl rent the air. Leta ground her teeth in disgust as she recognized the sound.
"What the hell is that?" Aidan asked.
"I hope old Tim’s an ex-boyfriend."
How she wished. "No. He’s the personification of human fear."
"Oh, goody," he said in a jovial tone. "Just what I wanted to add to my dream. Should we invite him over for tea?"
While she found his sarcasm entertaining, it still failed to make her laugh or smile given their worsening situation. "Aidan, this isn’t a dream. I mean, yes, we’re in a dream state, but when you wake up, it doesn’t mean that Dolor won’t be real. He is real and he’s out to kill you."
He moved away from her. "Fine. Bring him on. I will be the last one standing."
"Bravado doesn’t defeat a god."
"Then what does?"
She really wished he hadn’t asked that particular question. "I don’t know. Each one of us has something that will render us weak and allow someone to kill us. But we’re not real big on letting other people know what those weaknesses are."
"And neither am I. I have no intention of letting anyone or anything knock me down."
She admired that about him, especially since he was human. "I want you to hold tight to that courage, Aidan. It might be the only thing that saves your life."
And with that she pulled him toward her and kissed him.
Aidan’s breath caught at the forgotten sensation of a woman in his arms. She tasted of bliss and woman. Of wicked delights. And God help him, he wanted more of her.
His heart thrumming, he deepened the kiss as he pulled her even tighter against him.
Leta couldn’t think straight as her tongue danced with his. It’d been centuries since she’d last kissed a man. Centuries since she felt this compelled to touch a man unless she was throwing a punch at him.
Aidan’s desire set fire to her own bound emotions. But more than that, they unleashed the long-buried part of herself that missed her family. Closing her eyes, she remembered her husband and that miraculous feeling of belonging. Of loving someone and being loved by them.
She missed it so much. Craved it even more. No one should have to spend eternity alone, isolated from everyone, devoid of all emotions. What Zeus had done to her kind was deplorable.
Again, she heard the cry of Timor from across the sea that splashed against the crystal sands. Dolor was trying to use him to break through the barrier of the dream world so that he could fight them on the mortal plane where they were weakest. She needed to wake up Aidan and make him understand the threat they posed to him.
"I’ll see you on the other side," she breathed before she pushed him away and forced him to wake up.
Aidan jerked awake. His heart pounding, he lifted his arm from his face to try and get his bearings. His movie was still playing in the background as the logs popped and settled around him.
It was then he saw Leta at his feet.
She blinked her eyes open as if she too were just waking up.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded.
Leta started to answer, only to realize that if she told him, he’d toss her out. He would never believe her in this realm.
Dear Zeus, how was she ever going to convince him of the truth?
"Aidan…" She hesitated as she tried to think of something reasonable to say to him.
"Leta…" he mocked. "I told you to stay out of here."
"I know you did. It’s just that I wanted to see you for a few minutes and you were asleep. I didn’t want to disturb you."
"So you slept at my feet like a puppy? No offense, but that’s creepy as hell. Next thing I know, you’ll be trying on my clothes and sleeping in my bed."
She scoffed as she pushed herself to her feet. "Brad Pitt you’re not."
"You’re right. I’m the man who kicked him out of the number-one slot for best-looking actor three years in a row."
Leta rolled her eyes. "That’s some ego you’ve got there."
"Yes it is and it’s constantly being reinforced by women willing to do anything to get my attention." He raked her with a cold look. "How far are you willing to go?"
She screwed her face up at him. "Don’t let that kiss go to your head. I was just curious."
"Yeah, babe, that’s what they all-" Aidan froze as her words permeated his ire. "What kiss?"
Her face went pale. "There was a kiss?"
"In my dreams. How did you know that?"
She became suddenly fidgety. "Lucky guess."
"Yeah, right. The only person who’s a worse actor than you is my old roommate whenever he was drunk. How did you know about my dream kiss?"
Leta swallowed as she grappled with what to tell him. But she kept coming back to one truth… "You’re not going to believe me."
What the heck? The worst he could do was throw her out and he’d been trying to do that since the moment she arrived. It wasn’t like she could die in the storm. For that matter, the storm only existed because she’d created it to give him a reason to invite her in.
"All right. I’m an Oneroi."
His features didn’t change as he appeared to accept it. "An honor what?"
"Not honor.Own-nuh-roy . It’s a god of sleep and I’m here to protect you."
He didn’t even blink at her words. He merely stared at her with a blank expression as he continued to lie on the couch without moving.
Finally, he inhaled deeply. "Why am I having this bad Terminator flashback… My name is Kyle Rhys. Come with me if you want to live."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "This isn’t a joke, Aidan."
He shot off the couch and moved to tower over her. Now there was no missing the disdain and disbelief bleeding out of every part of him. "No, it isn’t and I don’t find you amusing in the least."
"Then how did I know about the kiss you and I shared in your dreams?"
"Wishful thinking on your part."
She shook her head. "I told you in your dream and I’m telling you again… bravado won’t defeat a god. If you really want to be the last man standing, you’re going to have to trust me at your back."
Aidan reeled at her words.
No. It wasn’t possible. Yet he recalled that moment from his dreams when he’d told her that. Clearly. Normally his dreams dissipated whenever he woke up. But he remembered every part of the last few minutes in his mind.
It wasn’t possible. She couldn’t have been there. She couldn’t.
"How much beer did I drink?" he whispered, raking his hand through his hair. "Am I in a coma?"
She shook her head. "You’re alive and awake. Fully conscious."
Yeah, right. "No," he said, still shaking his head at her. "I can’t be. This is all wrong. You’re all wrong. Things like this don’t happen in real life." He felt as if he’d been trapped inside one of his movies.
In a script, he’d accept this.
In real life…
She reached for him, but he quickly moved away from her. "Aidan, listen to me. Everything I told you is the truth. You have to trust in me."
"Uh-huh. If you’re a god prove it. Make it stop snowing."
She gave him a peeved glare. "Parlor tricks to entertain humans are beneath us. But since you insist." She snapped her fingers and instantly the snow stopped.
Aidan felt his jaw drop again as he saw the clouds literally part to reveal a bright, sunny day-just like in his dreams. The rolling landscape was completely white as if fully cleansed.
Still his mind wouldn’t accept it. This just couldn’t happen. "Nice coincidence. Now get the hell out of my house."
"I can’t," she said from between clenched teeth. "I need your anger to fight Dolor. If I leave you, he’ll cut through you like a hot knife on butter."
"I already kicked his ass."
"In a dream, Aidan. Ever tried to manifest a sword with your thoughts in the real world? It doesn’t happen, does it?"
Aidan hated to admit that she had a valid point. But it still didn’t change the fact that this was lunacy.
"How do I know you’re not lying to me?" he asked. "Show me something I can’t argue against."
She spread her arms out, and as soon as she did, a sword appeared in her right hand. She turned the blade around and offered him the hilt. "Test it for yourself."
He did and it felt real enough. Sharp, heavy. There was no way she could have had something like this concealed on her body without his knowing it.
As much as he hated to admit it, it was beginning to look like she was telling the truth and that somehow the impossible was possible.
He lowered the sword. "How can this be?"
"We’ve always been here. Sometimes living among all of you, sometimes just as innocuous viewers of your lives. I’m one of those who volunteered to protect humanity."
"And why would you do that?"
He saw pain flash across her light eyes before she answered. "Because I have nothing else to live for. You told me of your brother’s betrayal. Imagine your own father calling out his hounds to kill your infant daughter and your husband. Imagine what it was like to watch them die and then be taken and punished for something you didn’t do. To be stripped of your dignity and emotions because your father was embarrassed by a stupid, insignificant dream he’d had and he blamed everyone who walks in the dreams for it. You feel your pain, Aidan. I feel mine."