Lexi thought she knew ambivalence. The events that had occurred in the labyrinth, in the underworld, and with Cerberus turned her emotions into chopped salad.
And none of that compared to what raged inside, when Actaeon stepped between Lexi and the woman who had erased her mother from existence. His face was twisted in an expression that matched Lexi’s inner turmoil, but he’d stopped her from lunging at Cassandra.
Not that Lexi would have. Probably not.
“You would have,” Cerberus spoke in her head.
She needed to practice which thoughts he heard and which she kept to herself. “Busted.”
“What are you doing here?” Actaeon asked the new arrival.
Cassandra shook her head. “I don’t know where here is, besides a beach.”
A stunning one, on the Greek island of /*get a name from Sotia*/. A beach with an empty stretch of sand, since the property was private, that led to an ocean of blue, blending into an orange sunset.
All of it ruined by Cassandra.
“Different question. How did you get here?” Actaeon’s voice was stern, but not rude.
Lexi hated that. She shouldn’t be jealous, but knowing that didn’t stop the envy that sliced through her. It didn’t matter that fate insisted she was meant for Actaeon, or that she’d felt an undeniable pull since the first time she met him. It had been less than a week since their first encounter, and he’d gone to the underworld and back for Cassandra.
Not the second time. That time he did it for me. The thought should have soothed her. It didn’t.
Cassandra’s gaze never left Actaeon. Her expression was flat, but intensity burned in her dark eyes. “I’ve never been anywhere else,” she said. “Or, rather, this place, about two minutes before I heard all of you talking, is the only thing I remember. I didn’t really kill anyone, did I?”
You destroyed Persephone’s soul. Sold your body to Hades because you couldn’t have the man you love. And now you have the nerve to show up here, in said man’s backyard, and pretend none of that ever happened?
She didn’t say any of it, because above all else, Cassandra looked sincere. Honest. Like she believed the bullshit coming out of her mouth.
That didn’t mean Lexi wanted to listen to anymore. She stood, and brushed the sand from her jeans. “I’ll be inside. Enjoy your conversation.”
“Lex.” Actaeon’s call hit her back. He didn’t chase her, though.
It would have hurt more if Cerberus didn’t stay by her side. “Unless you’re only doing it because you have to,” she thought.
“I don’t have to do anything you don’t command me to.” Cerberus jogged forward a few steps to slide the back door open for her. “I don’t want to see her any more than you do. She locked me in a binding circle. She destroyed my queen,” he said aloud.
Lexi leaned against a nearby wall, and let her head thunk against the plaster. “Have you ever seen this before?”
“Someone come back from the dead, wind up at their ex’s house, and not have a single memory of their past? No. And If I haven’t seen it, it doesn’t happen.”
Because when it came to death, only her real father, Hades, knew more about the topic than Cerberus. The hellhound shifter who had guarded the underworld for millennia. Lexi scrubbed her face. “Why isn’t that reassuring?”
Her entire life she’d been told the gods were here to be worshiped. That they’d earned the people’s love and adoration.
She knew better. Her stepfather—the man she called Dad—taught her the gods were petty and loathsome. Meant to be feared and avoided at all costs, lest their egos destroy her.
Then she tumbled headfirst into their world. Falling for a servant, falling for a hero, unsure whether she should hide from the gods or cooperate with them—
The back door slid open and shut again, and she knew without looking that Actaeon and Cassandra had joined them. Actaeon radiated a silver aura that encased her in ice and comfort whenever he was around.
She kicked away from the wall, never turning in their direction.
“Lexi,” Actaeon said. “Hear me out.”
She wanted to say no, but it was his home. At least, that was why she told herself she couldn’t refuse. She looked at him. “What?”
“She told me she’d be back.” Actaeon spoke softly, as if reminding himself, more than telling them. “That she’d die, and I’d come for her, but that she couldn’t see beyond that.”
Cassandra stood next to him, eyes wide, and mouth clamped shut.
For some reason the silence made her even more infuriating. If she were the insane woman Lexi had encountered in the underworld, it would be easier to hate her.
“Your point is?” Cerberus’ irritation crackled under Lexi’s skin, tightening in her neck and back.
“If she really doesn’t know who she is—”
“Excuse me. If?” Cassandra cut Actaeon off. “Whoever you think I am, I’m sorry she’s got all of you so worked up. But that’s not me.”
Actaeon shrugged. “That’s my point. Am I supposed to turn my back and tell her to go to the next house?”
“What would you do instead? Let her stay here?” The edge in Cerberus’s voice hinted at his opinion on the matter.
Actaeon didn’t look impressed with the implied threat of don’t you dare. “I’m thinking about it.”
This entire situation was more surreal than stepping through a gate created by a siren, into a separate plane of existence, to walk through a maze that only existed in people’s heads. At least that was something Lexi had been raised to expect.
Sitting in the middle of an open floor plan, on marble floors that gleamed despite the fact that she doubted Actaeon had been home in months—years?—in a multi-million-dollar home, on a private beach in Greece?
Nothing in her lifetime had prepared her for this. Oh, and the whole ex-girlfriend of one of the men she was fated to fall for, returning from the dead thing was a bit overwhelming too.
“Or you could give her hotel money.” Cerberus had been so kind and understanding about Lexi’s twisted potential relationships. He wanted her to be happy. To explore. And to be by his side at the same time. A spiteful part of her was grateful he didn’t have the same generosity when it came to Cassandra. “We all remember she killed Persephone, and willingly freed Hades, don’t we?”
Cassandra held up her hands. “I did what? Hades is dead. That’s what they teach in school, right?”
That was another thing bothering Lexi, though she hadn’t been able to put her finger on it. Cassandra seemed to have all the knowledge she needed to live in this world—or at least a solid understanding of current history and slang—but didn’t know her own past?
Actaeon looked at Lexi. “What do you think?”
She didn’t care for being asked to break a tie. Especially not one like this. “She murdered my mother.”
Cerberus was smug. She felt it flowing through the new bond they shared. The one created when he became her servant. Sworn to serve only her. To do what she wished, when she commanded it. Something only gods were supposed to be able to do, but that Lexi had managed without realizing it.
“Lexi had a siren put a block on her memory, and it came back,” Cerberus said.
With everything else going on, she’d almost forgotten about that. The irony threatened to make her laugh.
“And what if Cassandra’s doesn’t?” Actaeon asked.
Cerberus growled. “Someone could come looking for her.”
“And if I put her in a hotel and walk away, and that person comes looking for her, she’s defenseless without her past.” Actaeon stepped closer. It was a subtle shift, but it placed him between Cerberus and Cassandra.
Lexi clenched her jaw at the protective stance.
“If she’s who we think, she should see it coming.” Cerberus was as much poking at Actaeon as amusing himself at this point.
“I miss you.” The words echoed in Lexi’s skull.
“What?” She looked Cerberus.
“I don’t have to.”
The voice wasn’t his, but it was definitely in her head. “Is that you?” She knew better, but didn’t have another answer.
Cerberus frowned. “Is what me?”
She listened. Nothing. “Hello?” she asked, tentatively.
“Hi.” Cerberus’s reply was audible. “What’s going on?”
She furrowed her brow and turned her thoughts inward. Whatever she’d heard was silent. Or she was imagining it. “Nothing. Tired.”
He tugged her close again, and wrapped his arms around her. “It’s been a long few days.”
“Good point.” She rested her head against his shoulder. That must be it. She was adjusting to sharing another person’s thoughts and feelings. To having almost killed Hades. To everything.
“I miss you.”
The phrase sent a chill down her spine, and she closed her eyes, willing the odd voice away.
Actaeon had invited Lexi and Cerberus to stay here because he wanted them to make it home. The idea of sharing this place was foreign, but comforting.
Now he was half a breath from reminding them this was his house, and he didn’t feel like throwing this Cassandra-suit-wearing stranger out onto the street.
Then Lexi started talking in sentence fragments.
And the air pressure changed. The weight pressed in on Actaeon, and the scent of sunshine filled his nostrils. He knew who was at the door before he heard the knock.
This was the last thing he wanted to deal with tonight. Fuck, his uncle was real high on his list of gods he never wanted to deal with. And that was a difficult list to top.
Before he could stop her, Cassandra answered the door.
Actaeon met Apollo’s gaze, said, “Nope,” and slammed the door shut again.
“How does anyone know we’re here?” Lexi sounded frustrated.
“Zeus sent us, so who knows who he told.” As he talked, Actaeon looped his thumb under the leather cord that hung around his neck, exposing a black stone. “Plus, this broke during the fight with Hades.” The piece of onyx had been imbued with siren magic that kept Actaeon’s true self masked behind an illusion.
He didn’t plan on getting it replaced. He was no longer willing to pay the siren’s price. But that meant he was the aural equivalent of a homing beacon now. Every god and servant could find him without much effort.
Apollo hammered on the door. “Two minutes,” he shouted. “And my knocking is only a courtesy.”
Actaeon rolled his eyes and opened the door again.
“My favorite nephew.” Sarcasm dripped from Apollo’s voice.
“Only,” Actaeon corrected him.
“And yet you make it such a difficult choice.”
This was splendid. First Cassandra-blank, and now this. “What do you want?”
“I heard you have a guest.” Apollo was using his power to make himself look more imposing. It was a neat trick for someone who was less two meters tall, and with a wiry build. His loose clothing, meant to let in the sun, exaggerated his thin frame.
Could Lexi see through that? Probably. But more because it wasn’t a convincing trick than because she could see past illusions. Actaeon gestured at her. “Apollo, Lexi. Lexi, my mother’s asshole brother.”
“Right. The brat.” Apollo didn’t sound impressed.
Cerberus growled and stepped forward, but Actaeon was faster, and looking for an outlet for his frustration.
A hunting dagger appeared in Actaeon’s hand without effort, and Actaeon pressed the tip to Apollo’s throat. “It’s been a long week, and I don’t usually need an excuse. Why. Are you. Here?”
Apollo held up his hands. “Cassandra. That’s the guest I meant.”
“Me?” She stepped forward. “Do I know you? Or rather, do you know me? Because these people don’t seem to like me very much.”
“They don’t like anyone.” Apollo smoothed out his baggy tank top when Actaeon stepped away. “And yes, I know you. I felt you the moment you returned to this plane. Don’t you recognize me?”
“I don’t remember anything.” Cassandra shook her head.
Apollo looked at Actaeon. “Are you keeping her for a reason?”
“Hadn’t decided yet.” Which wasn’t quite true. It was a question of convincing Lexi of the same thing.
Apollo’s stepped around him, and reached a hand toward Cassandra. “You can stay with me.”
“Just like that?” Cassandra seemed to be taking all of this in stride. No protests. A handful of questions. She was the most even-keel amnesiac ever.
One more thing to set Actaeon’s teeth on edge. The Cassandra he’d known was energetic and passionate. This woman was very much a blank slate.
“I owe you,” Apollo said to Cassandra.
Actaeon shook his head. “This is a bad idea.”
“I’m asking her permission, not yours.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up.” Lexi’s shout startled him. He whirled to see her drop to her knees on the tile, cradling her head in her hands.
Cerberus knelt next to her. “Talk to me out loud. Don’t stay in your head.”
“It won’t stop.” She sounded as though it took immense effort to breathe. “He’s in my thoughts. He keeps saying he misses me.”
“Who?” Actaeon’s concern spiked.
“I don’t know.” She clenched her fists in her hair, and tugged. “It’s so loud. I need it to stop.”
“Look at me.” Cerberus placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face.
She focused on him for a second, before curling her head back into her hands again. “I need it to go away. I can’t think. It won’t shut up.”
Apollo stepped toward Lexi. “I can make it stop.”
“How?” Cerberus asked.
“I can make you sleep.”
That hardly sounded like a solution.
She shook her head. “And what happens when I wake up?”
“You hope the voices have stopped.” Apollo made it sound like the only obvious answer.
She scooted away from him, sliding her butt back on the tile. “I’ll cope.”
The scream that ripped from her throat next sent chills down his spine. If this was coping, Actaeon didn’t want to see losing it.