All right guys, I've got Aiden's Perspective for your viewing pleasure. Keep in mind, this is NOT a part of his novella which is planning for a Winter 2012/2013 release date.
Also, before you scroll down, don't forget the live SPOILER chat tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST on Jennifer's Live Stream Channel. The chat WILL include spoilers and will have lots of great prizes and information about PURE (I will read for Pure), book two in the Covenant series. Hope to see you there!
The first body we’d found at the bus station in Atlanta had at least one hundred of his two-hundred-and-eight bones broken in his body. The kid couldn’t have been much older than my brother, and that made me sick. Another life wasted, and for what? Mortals had no aether. It was just the joy…the thrill of the kill.
Kneeling beside the street kid’s body, I glanced up at the hulking form cast in silvery moonlight. The dude was built like a steamroller. “Find any more bodies, Leon?”
The pure-blood Sentinel shook his head, eyes narrowing. “No.”
Leon was a man of few words, but I was used to it. Turning back to the body, I knew what I had to do. I hated it with every fiber of my being, but this was a mess. Sentinels just didn’t hunt daimons.
We cleaned up after them.
Off in the distant, lightning struck and the last of the late Spring storm rolled out. Jaw clenched, I placed my hand on the kid’s arm and let one of the most powerful elements wash away what had been the horrific last moments of his life. Sparks flew from my fingertips, fueled by the very gods themselves, and traveled up the lifeless arm. Within seconds, the unnatural fire consumed the body. Nothing but ashes remained. It was like the boy never existed. And I couldn’t help but wonder if he had parents out there to notify, who even cared.
And I thought of Deacon again.
“Hey, Aiden, look what I found,” Kain called out, excited.
Standing, I wiped off my hands and turned. Kain was grinning. Gods, Kain was always grinning. He could be facing down a horde of daimons and still have that crooked smile on his face.
“What?” Leon demanded, arms folded across his chest.
Kain waved a slip of paper. “One bus ticket to Nashville, plus there’s money everywhere back here.”
Leon made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. “This is a bus station, Kain. There will be tickets scattered around.”
“Yeah, thanks for pointing that out.” Kain rolled his eyes. “This ticket was from Miami to Nashville, with a stop in Atlanta.”
“She’s been here,” said Leon in a low, grave voice.
A ticket. Loose Money. Dead mortals and daimons. She had most definitely been here.
“Crap.” Kain pocketed the ticket and dropped the money for someone else to find. “You guys should’ve listened to me in Florida. We should’ve been watching the bus stations and not the airports.”
“That’s not really helping right now.” I stalked down the alley, scanning for something…anything to put us in the right direction. I needed to get back to the Covenant. Gods only know what the Deacon was doing.
“All I’m saying, is that—”
“Shut up, Kain,” warned Leon. It was amazing that he hadn't killed Kain yet.
With a grim smile I moved to the edge of the alley. A field and woods separated the truck stop from an industrial park. I felt Leon moved up behind me and I turned slightly. “Do you think we’re too late?” I asked.
He stared straight ahead, eyes distant. “I don’t think so. She made it this far after…”
After what we’d seen and learned in Miami, the girl would’ve had to have been resourceful to keep going. But there were daimons here. They’d killed. It didn’t look good. She may be only a half-blood—a very well connected half-blood—but the idea of her dying out here alone sliced through me. The injustice of it all wasn’t right.
“Look,” Leon said. “Someone’s been in this field, running. See how sections are trampled down?”
He was right. The three of us headed forward, following the trampled field grass until we reached the woods. It wasn’t easy then. We split up, each of us going in a different direction. I headed down the middle, eyeing the tops of the building in the distance. Another pulse of lightning split the sky and the following thunder shook my bones.
I’d take a few more steps when I heard Leon call out. Following his voice, I found him by the charred remains of another mortal. It was fresh. “Daimon?”
He nodded. “Don’t know what else could burn a mortal up like that and not take out the entire forest.”
“She’s got to be around here somewhere.” Alive… or dead, but either way, we would find her. We’d bring her back like we’d been ordered to by the Minister himself. I glanced at the buildings again and an uncanny feeling rolled down my spine. “Let’s check them out.”
Sending Kain back to the Hummer with orders to meet us at the park, Leon and I headed out. It didn’t take us long to cross the woods and tread over cracked pavement. Kain parked at the edge of the lot, joining us as we moved between the buildings.
“Okay, I’ve got to ask this.” Kain pulled out a titanium blade. “Why in the world would daimons go to this much trouble to munch on a half-blood?”
Leon exhaled loudly.
“Don’t get me wrong. Being a half-blood and all myself, I like to think I’m important, but to a daimon? No way. Something is wrong about this.”
As much as I hated to admit it—because whenever Kain was right, I never heard the end of it—he had a point. Daimons didn’t care about half-bloods. There wasn’t enough aether in them. “I know,” I said finally.
“I mean, what’s going on that we don’t—”
I stopped, hearing the sound of metal grinding. Holding up a hand, I silenced Kain as I turned to the squat building in front of us. Motioning to it, I pulled out my blade and headed forward.
One of the rusted-out doors had been kicked in. Anticipation swelled and adrenaline kicked into overtime. This is it. I knew it deep in my bones. After months of coming so close, this was going to be the end, one way or another. I eased opened the door and let my eyes adjust to the darkness of the abandoned factory.
Scattered benches and broken beams lay everywhere. The place smelled of rot and decay. Heart pumping fast now, I crept around the forgotten work tables.
Then I heard it—I heard her.
“Blah. Blah. You’re gonna kill me. Blah. I know.”
A reluctant, amused smile pulled at my lips. From everything I’d heard about Alexandria Andros that had to be her. Part of me felt like I should’ve known her when the Minister had dumped the orders in my lap, but the distant memory of who she would’ve been was remote and unreachable.
A daimon’s shriek cut through the air and then a male yelled for the female to stop. The sound of pounding feet propelled me into action. I sprung forward, racing for the gap in the wall. Not knowing how many daimons had the girl cornered, I needed a distraction.
I threw up my free hand and blew out a small breath. A wave of fire rolled over the factory floor, burning everything in its path. There was a sudden shriek from the other side. Releasing the other blade into my hand, I walked through the fire, untouched by the heat.
In an instant I saw her. She looked too tiny to be standing there, clutching… a garden spade in her small hand? From beneath the tangled mess of her hair, our gazes locked. A flicker of familiarity went through me.
The female behind her looked like any pure-blood to me, but I wasn’t taking the risk. I’d found her. “Get down.”
Thank the gods she hit the floor as I threw out another stream of elemental fire. It slammed into the daimon, and she fell, shrieking and rolling. My senses told me there were more.
I lowered my hand, hearing the popping sound as the flames went out. Leon and Kain rushed in. With his keen and sometimes freaky ability to root out daimons, Leon zeroed in on the other daimon and disappeared. Kain went to the downed female daimon, driving the titanium blade deep into her chest.
Out the corner of my eye, I saw Alexandria struggling to her feet. Irritation flared. She needed to stay down, out of the way until we knew where the rest of the daimons were. I turned for a second—a damn second—and I heard her yelp.
Spinning toward her, I saw a blond guy had her trapped, pulling her back by her hair. In a split second, horror raced through me as he struck like an angered cobra. She screamed—the sound dragged me back so many years ago. I’d heard that shrill, pained sound too many times since the first time I’d awakened to it. My stomach lurched.
The daimon lifted his gory mouth. “What are you?”
Shooting forward, I grabbed the daimon by his throat and ripped him away from her. He hit the floor, rolling onto his feet. Smiling, I spun out and caught him in the stomach with my booted foot. Then I dropped, taking his legs right out from underneath him. I could’ve killed him then. I could’ve ended it quickly.
But he’d tagged her.
And well, that deserved a little payback. Mercy not included.
The daimon climbed to his feet just as I caught him by the throat, slamming the creature into the nearby wall. Bones crunched. I didn’t flinch. Not even as I slammed him again… or when I finally drove the blade into him. The daimon collapsed into itself. I turned away before he was even fully gone, my gaze going straight to the girl.
She was on the floor, curled up into a tiny ball, making sounds that pecked at my chest. I’d never been tagged before, but I’d heard that Hades had nothing on the pain. Putting the blades away, I went to her.
Carefully, I reached down and rolled her onto her back. Her hands clutched the space between her neck and shoulder. Needing to see the damage, I pried her hands away. It didn’t look too bad. No major arteries or big chunks of skin missing. But she wasn’t talking. She was just staring up at me through strands of hair, her eyes wide and standing out against her pale, dirtied cheeks.
It was her.
“Are you okay? Alexandria? Please say something.”
“Alex,” she choked out. “Everyone calls me Alex.”
I gave a short, relieved laugh. “Okay. Good. Alex, can you stand?”
She nodded. Every few seconds a shudder rolled through her, but she held it together. The girl was strong. “That really… sucked something bad.”
Wrapping an arm around her waist, I lifted her onto her feet. She swayed as I brushed her hair back to look at her the tag again, just to be sure. “Give it a few minutes. The pain will wear off.”
Leon returned, along with Kain. His eyes were fixed on the girl, and I had a sudden urge to shield her. Pure-bloods weren’t known for their kindness toward halfs—a fact I hated about my own kind. I didn’t know where Leon stood with them. “That should be all of them,” he said.
I nodded. “Alex, we need to go. Now. Back to the Covenant.”
She looked at me again, but she didn’t see me as she backed up, her thin arms trembling. Like a caged animal that saw no way out. In a flicker of a second, I knew she was going to do something rash, something not fully thought out and born of residual fear. I only hoped that it was me she went after, and not Leon. I wouldn’t hold it against her, but if she attacked a different pure-blood, all of this would be for nothing.
I made a small step toward her, raising my hands in what I hoped came across as harmless.
She shuddered, like a sheet of string stretched too thin.
I took another step toward her, and she threw herself at me in mass of kicking feet and clawing hands. There was some talent in there—some leftover training—but her movements were jerky with fear and exhaustion.
Catching one of her hands, I spun her around and clamped her arms to her sides. She bent forward, trying to kick me. No good deed goes unpunished… I moved out the way. “Don’t,” I warned, speaking directly into her ear. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Her breathing was harsh, broken as she struggled like we were the ones trying to hurt her. The string of curses she strung together was actually quite impressive and would’ve been entertaining if they hadn’t been directed at me.
“Whoa!” Kain yelled from the sidelines. “Alex, you know us! Don’t you remember me? We aren’t going to hurt you.”
“Shut up!” she screamed, gathering up the last of her strength, breaking free of my grasp only because I hadn’t held her tight enough to hurt her.
Alex dodged Kain and Leon, who’d stood by, looking equally shocked and amused. Her long, stringy hair flew out from behind her as she picked up speed, heading for the exit.
Kain smirked. “Well, this has gone as expected."
I sighed. “I’ll get her.”
“Make sure you don’t break her or anything,” Leon said. “I doubt her stepfather would appreciate that.”
Yeah. Yeah. I took off after her, knowing she wouldn’t get anywhere. Not now. Rounding the side of the building, I saw her under the moonlight, streaking across the field. The girl could run when she wanted to. Was that how she'd stayed alive? Just running? Kind of sad.
Catching up to her, I wrapped my arms around her waist and took her down, twisting so I took the hit in the itchy grass. For a heartbeat, she was on top of me, stunned and silent, but if the few moments of being around her had taught me anything, I knew that wouldn’t last. Tilting my hips, I rolled her under me, pinning her down.
“Now?” she screamed, voice cracking. “Where were you a week ago? Where was the Covenant when my mother was being killed? Where were you?”
I jerked back, more affected by those words than she’d ever realize. “I’m sorry. We didn’t—”
She went off like an atomic bomb. Screaming. Kicking. Clawing. Someone was going to get hurt, and it wasn’t going to be me. And the last thing I wanted to do was hurt someone who’d obviously been through too much, seen too much. I let my weight press her down, holding her immobile.
And finally, Alex stopped fighting. I think she stopped breathing. Or maybe it was me, because I could feel every part of her. Soft where I was hard, curved where I was straight lines. I stared down at her, sharing the same air, our lips only inches apart.
In her eyes, there was a storm of emotions. The look was shattering, deep. The soft brown irises churned in a battle with fear, rage… and something much more. I almost didn’t see it, but her lips parted in a pliable exhale.
Oddly enough, I found myself wanting to know what she looked like under all the dirt. How she sounded when she wasn’t cussing or screaming at me. How she moved when the actions weren’t born out of instinct or fear.
All of that curiosity was all highly inappropriate, wrong even.
She was a half-blood.
I lowered my head, and she inhaled so sharply that her chest pressed against mine. A primal rush went through me, really hard to ignore and push down when she looked at me like that. Like if I wanted to do something, anything crazy, she’d be down for it.
This was insane.
Placing my hand on her forehead, guilt chewed through me with tiny, razor-sharp teeth. This had to be done. If not, she’d only hurt herself. Meeting her stare, I packed a hell of a mental punch with my next words. “Go to sleep. Now. Go to sleep and not wake until you feel safe. Now.”
Alex stiffened and then her entire body went lax, limp and compliant. I had the distinct impression this would be one of the few moments she’d ever be like that. Remorse for using a compulsion against her slithered through me as I gathered her in my arms and stood.
It was over. At least, it should be. We’d done what we’d be sent to do. We found Alexandria Andros, and yet, I knew it deep in my soul that this was only the beginning.
Alex liked to snuggle. That became apparent from the moment I placed her in the back of the Hummer and climbed in after her. Not even a minute went by before she wiggled closer, placing her head on my shoulder. It couldn’t be comfortable position, and I wanted to move my arm to give her more room, but that wouldn’t go over well. The fact that she was using my shoulder as a pillow was bad enough.
I should’ve pushed her away, but I didn’t have it in me. Every couple of minutes, she would make these little sounds, a soft whimper or moan. I glanced down at her, only able to see the top of her nose poking out from her hair. I wondered what she was dreaming.
My eyes lifted, finding Leon watching me in the rearview mirror. He raised his brows. “Eyes on the road,” I grunted.
Kain hadn’t said a word to me since I’d appeared with Alex in my arms. He was ticked over the compulsion. Couldn’t blame him. Compulsions were a sore subject with halfs.
Shifting closer, Alex sighed deeply, drawing my attention back to her. The moment she woke and became aware of what she was doing, I braced myself.
Alex jerked back quickly, smacking her head off the window. “Crap!”
Wincing, I turned to her. “Are you okay?” She didn’t answer me for several minutes. “Alex. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” She scowled as she looked around the Hummer. “Where are we?”
“We’re on the coast, just outside of Bald Head Island. We are almost to Deity Island.”
She jumped a little. “What?”
“We’re going back to the Covenant, Alex.”
Rubbing the back of her head, she sighed. “Did the Covenant send you? Or was it my… stepfather?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. It all seemed complicated. “The Covenant.”
“You work for the Covenant now?”
Surprised that she even remembered me from her time there, I shook my head. “No. I’m just a Sentinel. I’m more on loan for the time being. Your uncle sent us to find you.” I glanced out the window. “A lot has changed since you’ve been gone.”
She asked a couple mundane questions as I watched her closely. She fidgeted. A lot. Not a moment went by without her moving in her seat. A grin pulled at my lips until I remembered what I’d done.
“Alex, I’m sorry about the compulsion back there. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
Not surprisingly, she didn’t forgive me. I glanced up front, relieved to find that Leon wasn’t watching us. “And… I’m sorry about your mother. We searched everywhere for you two, but you didn’t stay in one place long enough. We were too late.”
“Yeah, you were too late.” Her voice wavered.
A pang hit me in the chest. Part of me wanted to tell her that I knew how she felt, but I wasn’t supposed to relate to her. Ever. Seeking a way to change the subject, I asked a question that had been gnawing at me. “Why did your mother leave three years ago?”
She peeked at me from behind the curtain of hair. What in Hades did her face look like? “I don’t know.”
Unsure if I should believe her, I let it drop. No one knew why her mother, a pure-blood, had pulled her away from the Covenant. And if they did, they weren’t talking. We didn’t talk again as we crossed the bridges and Leon dropped us off in front of one of the dorms rising up between the sand and sea.
She was quiet as I led her through the halls, and I should be grateful for that. But unrest tugged at me for some reason. “Get cleaned up. I’ll return for you in a little bit.” I started to turn, but stopped. “I’ll find something for you to wear and leave it on the table.”
Not waiting for her response, I left her in the dorm and stopped near the gymnasium that was shaped like a coliseum. There were always extra clothing stashed away in the supply room. Training tended to get messy…bloody. New clothes were always on hand. Finding her a shirt and pair of sweats, I headed back to her room. Upon entering, I heard water running. A flicker of restlessness moved through me as I placed the clothes on the small table. It seemed wrong being in here, when she was in the shower…naked.
I rolled my eyes.
Of course she was naked. That shouldn’t come as a shock, but my heart was racing like I had just run the dunes outside.
And I shouldn’t be standing here, mulling over the fact that she was naked. Even I could admit that was creepy. Not that any other pure-blood would care about the violation of her privacy. Half-bloods didn’t have any basic, fundamental rights. Another pure-blood could be here…they could do anything they wanted without consequence.
That sickened me.
Clamping my jaw shut, I left again and went back to the main island. Each step I took, I prepared myself for what I would no doubt find when I opened the door to what used to be my parents' house.
The stench of alcohol overshadowed that of the sea and nearly knocked me over. Anger rushed through me like a ball of fire. Stalking down the hallway, I didn’t even bother to be quiet as I glanced into a sitting room.
Several pure-blood teenagers were passed out in various positions. Some I really didn’t want to see. My irritation knew no limits as I continued on. Making sure that the one room was still locked, I headed for Deacon’s bedroom. I shoved the door open, slamming it against the wall.
Thank the gods Deacon was alone. If I walked in on him one more time half-naked, I was going to have to let a Furie gorge my eyes out.
My younger brother was sprawled across the bed, face down, clothing rumpled and a flask beside him, seeping only the gods know what he’d been drinking into the mattress.
Without further adieu, I kicked the post on the bed. Hard.
“What?” Deacon mumbled into the blanket. “The bathroom is down the hall… or go outside. Whatever.”
“I know where the bathroom is, asshat. This is my house.”
Deacon froze and then let a loud sigh as he rolled onto his back, squinting up at me. He smiled—actually smiled at me. The only trait we really shared was the eyes, but his gray ones were muddled. “Hey, bro, welcome back.”
I wanted to take him outside and dump him in the ocean. Hold him under until Poseidon kicked us out. “Is this what you’ve been doing the whole time I’ve been gone? Drinking? Partying?”
“No.” Sitting up, he swayed from side to side as he winced. “Okay. Maybe just a little.”
Taking a step forward, I bent so that we were at eye level. “Is this how you’re going to spend your whole life? Is this what I have to look forward to every time I come back here?”
He tilted his head back, his smile wobbly. “You’re not my babysitter, bro. You’re not my dad. Gods… you act like you’re fifty. You’re only twenty. Live a little. Have a drink.” He handed me the flask. “Chill out.”
I knocked the flask out of his hand when I really wanted to knock him upside the head.
“Whoa,” he murmured. “Not cool.”
Drawing on patience I really didn’t have, I took a deep breath. “I know you drink because you miss our parents. I know it’s some deep-rooted trauma and grief. I get that, but this isn’t the way to deal with it.”
He blinked. “It’s not, all wise one?”
By the gods, I was going to physically harm him. “I just picked up a girl who saw her mother drained by a daimon. Who had to fight every second to survive, Deacon. She could’ve done what you’re doing. She could’ve just given up.”
“Maybe she should have.” He flopped onto his back, closing his eyes. “Easier that way.”
There was so much I wanted to say to him, but I’d probably regret every word in an hour. Or not, but I didn’t have time for this. Marcus was waiting. “Get them out of this house in an hour.”
“Yes, sir!” He gave me a one finger salute.
Spinning around, I left the house before I did hit him. Back on the Covenant controlled island, I reined in my anger and went to retrieve Alex. Kain intercepted me just as I rounded the courtyard.
“What do you think they’re going to do with her?” he asked, falling in step beside me.
Good question. “I have no clue.”
“She missed too much time to get caught up.” He ran a hand through his blond hair, agitated. “They’ll send her into servitude. Put her on the Elixir.”
Coldness whipped through me. Servitude equaled slavery, the fear of all half-bloods. Not wanting to delve too deeply into why the idea of the little spitfire being placed on the Elixir bothered me, I shook my head. “I doubt they would’ve gone to all this trouble to do that.”
“I’d work with her if they need someone to get her caught up. That’s all she really needs. I remember her, Aiden. The girl can fight. And she’s quick. Gods, she got away from you.”
I rolled my eyes. No doubt Kain was never going to let me forget that. “You graduated less than a year ago. You can’t train someone.”
“Then what? You’ll do it?” Curiosity colored his tone. “You’re not known for your patience.”
That was true. Whenever the Covenant sent fresh out of school Sentinels to me, I sent over half of them back for minor infractions. I’d rather be known as a prick then be responsible for a handful of dead half-bloods. “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”
I seriously had enough to worry with without adding a half-trained half-blood to the mix. I left Kain outside the dorm, heading straight for the room I’d left her in. I knocked once and then opened the door. Briefly I thought I should’ve waited a moment. The whole naked issue resurfaced with a vengeance…until I saw her.
Alex was standing in the middle of the little living room, dressed in the clothes I retrieved. She jumped when she saw me, but I was more surprised than her. Getting a good look at her without dirt covering her face, I realized one thing.
I remembered her.
But she wasn’t the little tomboy I recalled from the times I’d seen her. Some of the features were the same. She hadn’t grown much in height, but my gods, she was…
Long, thick chestnut colored hair fell past a chest that had grown in the last three years. Her face was oval shape; lips full like a pure-blood’s. Cheekbones high and eyebrows delicately arched over two wide, brown eyes. Even with the faint purplish bruises marring an otherwise flawless complexion, she was… unbelievable.
My entire body tensed as we locked eyes. Something most halfs wouldn’t even dare do, but oh no, she did. She stared back, the same appreciative stare I was giving her. A liquid feeling, like when I called on fire, simmered in my veins.
A feeling I shouldn’t have.
Alex tipped her head back. “What?”
I snapped out of it. What in the Hades was I thinking? “Nothing. You ready?”
“I guess so.”
She followed me out the dorm, and I was acutely aware of her eyes on me. I glanced over my shoulder, wondering what she was thinking. She had this strangest look on her face, like she was trying to work a puzzle. "How many daimons have you killed?”
“Just two.” She picked up her pace to walk beside me.
“Just two?” Awed, I stared at her. “Do you realize how amazing it is for a half-blood not fully trained to kill one daimon, let alone two?”
“I guess so.” Her face scrunched up with anger and then fell. “I would’ve killed the other one in Miami… but I was just—I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. I know I should’ve gone after him, but I panicked.”
I stopped, facing her. “Alex, the fact you took down one daimon without training is remarkable. It was brave, but also foolish.”
“You’re not trained. The daimon could’ve easily killed you. And the one you brought down in the factory? Another fearless, but foolish act.”
She frowned. “I thought you said it was amazing and remarkable.”
“It was, but you could’ve been killed.” I walked off ahead. Amazing? Remarkable?
“Why would you even care if I was killed? Why does Marcus care? I don’t even know the man, and if he doesn’t allow me to resume training, I’m as good as dead anyways.”
“That would be a shame.” I didn’t know why I cared, but I did. “You have all the potential in the world.”
And I knew then, even when her eyes narrowed like she was imagining planting her foot in my face, I wouldn’t let them cart her off into servitude. My gods, I had to be the stupidest pure-blood alive, but I knew this wasn’t going to end when I deposited her in her uncle’s office.
Like I’d realized in the field, I was struck again by the sense of knowing. This was far from being over, from being the end of the road for Alex and me.