Though I had been nervous about our little grocery store excursion, once we’d gotten past my coworkers’ initial reactions of shock, and every female patron aged fourteen to ninety-four blatantly gawking at Alex, the experience proved to be far more fun than I’d ever anticipated.
Alex clearly had never been grocery shopping before. Ever. I found his reactions to the various products he was unfamiliar with and his overall aversion to the way the store was set up and organized to be thoroughly amusing. He grimaced in distaste at all of the many shoppers blocking his path at every turn, grousing that it was all rather uncivilized and that we should be able to rent the store out by the hour in order to do our shopping in private at the very least.
As we were strolling down the bulk bin aisle, our cart stuffed to the gills with mostly random items Alex had simply found “interesting” and therefore slung into the cart, he commented on the fact that he still couldn’t believe his sister had gone against a direct order and allowed me to come see him in the wine cellar the night before. He suggested we buy her a thank-you gift for her uncharacteristic display of defiance in this case, and laughingly inquired whether I thought there was anything at Whole Foods that might possibly suit Lessa’s discriminating tastes.
I experienced an acute attack of conscience then and decided it was time to come clean to Alex about how I’d come to visit him in the wine cellar.
“Um … so … about your sister … well, the thing is, she didn’t exactly willingly allow me to go down to the wine cellar last night.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, so … um … you see … at first I thought she was just going to let me go see you, you know? Because after attempting to convince me of what a terrible idea it would be for me to try and talk to you in your wound-up state and failing to persuade me, she started droning on and on with all of this other cautionary advice. But then when I said I didn’t care and that I was going to see you anyway, well … she kinda sorta laughed in my face and said I’d have to get through her first.”
Alex chuckled. “Sounds like Lessa. How did you ultimately convince her?”
“Ah … well, I was a mite peeved at that point, irritated with her for wasting my time and leading me on, so … I kinda … maybe … snapped … for a moment there in the kitchen.”
Alex stopped the cart, his brows pinching together as he turned to me. “Snapped?”
“I hit her and knocked her out cold.”
With a wild shout of laughter, he resumed pushing the cart down the aisle. “Well, that’s proof positive how much Lessa likes you, because I’ve never in my life seen my sister throw a fight.”
“You think … you think she faked it?”
“Clearly. One hundred percent faked it.”
“No? Really? Hmm … I don’t know. No … no it looked pretty real actually—”
“Baby, it’s not that I don’t trust your memory’s perception of last night’s events in the kitchen, but believe me when I say, there’s absolutely no way you knocked Lessa out in a fight. She faked it.”
“But I—I did.”
“Angel”—he half-covered his twitching lips behind his hand—“trust me, you didn’t.”
“No, I’m serious. I think I did. She was passed out cold when I left her.”
“Well, I’m sure it appeared that way.”
“It was that way.”
“Look, I’m not even certain I could best Lessa in a fight if it ever came to it.” He halted next to a seaweed crisps end-aisle display. “Which it never has, since she’s never gone against one single order I’ve ever given her before last night.”
“But I hit her pretty hard. With a frying pan,” I added sheepishly.
He only shook his head and laughed harder.
“Milena, Lessa’s one of our best fighters. Plus, she fights dirty.” He gave me a pointed look. “She’s positively vicious when she wants to be.”
I felt my lips settle into a frown. I was starting to doubt my own memory of events now. Perhaps she really had been tricking me, as Alex suggested?
“She got into a disagreement with Al once,” Alex proceeded to retell, profound amusement transforming his features as we made our way down the next aisle, “where she wound up tearing his beating heart clear out of his chest.” He erupted into raucous laughter at my horrified expression. “And the best part was Al had been giving her a hug at the time, as she’d led him to believe they were burying the hatchet and agreeing to disagree.”
My jaw unhinged.
“Yep, so Lessa just snatched his heart right out while he was embracing her.”
He’d spoken loudly enough that an elderly woman in the cereal aisle next to us stiffened before turning to scowl at the two of us in shock. Without missing a beat, Alex turned to the lady, looked her straight in the eyes, and ordered, “You will ignore us.” She did, turning back to the boxes of cereal as if she’d never seen or heard us.
“Then Lessa refused to give it back until he’d conceded that she was right and apologized to her.”
“In writing,” he emphasized. “Sandwich?”
I glanced up and realized Alex was steering us in the direction of the sandwich counter. As luck would have it, crazy Tony was working the counter with freaky religious Carlos—aka my ill-fated junior prom date.
“Yo, Laney-Baney, what up?” Tony greeted me from behind the sandwich bar, tossing a curious glance above my head and inquiring in a slightly, but not much, lower volume, “Who’s the old dude you rollin’ with?”
“Her fiancé,” Alex answered on my behalf, ensuring that everyone within a twenty-foot radius heard him stake his claim. We were engaged now? Carlos looked instantaneously, utterly shattered.
“Aw, shit, girl,” Tony lamented. “You done got yourself knocked up, huh? Sorry to hear it.”
“Spread that rumor and I’ll put you in a body bag faster than you can assemble a sandwich,” Alex told him.
“Yo, got it!” Tony appeased. “We’re chill, man. Totally chill.”
I elbowed Alex hard in the ribs and shot him a death glare before introducing him to Tony and Carlos. We ordered several sandwiches to go, and I endured Carlos’ increasingly weepy glances and pained expressions the whole time Tony prepared our food.
Just as Tony was wrapping and labeling our sandwiches and I was quietly congratulating myself on surviving my first grocery expedition with Alex, the unthinkable happened: Alcaeus and Remy showed up!
I watched as female patrons tripped and collided with one another, ogling Alcaeus and Remy as they casually made their way through the store—just two stunningly beautiful demigods seeking out their equally gorgeous supernatural kin over by the sandwich bar.
As they approached, I noticed there was something off about them. They seemed fairly upset. Angry. Alcaeus appeared rather … furious?
“Ah, just the brother I’d planned to kill today,” Alex greeted, his volume loud enough that the guys behind the counter jerked their heads up to check out the scene unfolding. “What took you so long? I expected you to come charging to Milena’s rescue hours ago.”
Oh, please, no. This couldn’t be happening to me.
“Got held up doing your job again, baby bro,” was Alcaeus’ stony reply.
Alex barked out a laugh. “You mean like the overtime you put in last night tonguing and groping my woman in the shower?”
“Ho, shit!” Tony exclaimed, then quickly slapped his hand over his mouth when Alex shot him a look that held the promise of ultimate pain and suffering.
Carlos’ eyes were fixed on me, round with shock, disgust, and other complicated emotions I preferred not to identify just now. I covered my boiling face behind my hands, praying that I might develop the ability to teleport if I wished it hard enough.
“I only groped her ass a little,” Alcaeus defended. “Kai’s the one who drew blood and had her creaming herself grinding her snatch on his boner.”
“Al!” Remy chastised.
My face caught fire. Alcaeus’ cruel, demeaning words went well beyond his usual brand of chauvinistic, crude humor. I was certain it’d have hurt less if he’d simply chosen to slap me in the face. What the hell had gotten into my supposed guardian?
The weight of Remy’s eyes on me drew my horrified stare away from Alcaeus. Remy gave me a sad, penitent smile and a little head shake that seemed to plead, “Let it go for now.” Strangely, it made me feel slightly better somehow.
Meanwhile, an entire glass deli case spontaneously shattered about fifteen feet to Alex’s left, followed immediately by another one, distracting the growing crowd of onlookers as shrieks and shouts broke out across the store. Tony and Carlos raced off to help clean up the mess.
Alcaeus smirked at his baby brother. “Good one.”
“You’re dead.” Alex’s voice was strained. Rough and hollow. His animal scratching the surface.
“Maybe later,” Alcaeus dismissed. “We got bigger problems right now, Alpha.”
“You have a problem,” Alex corrected.
“Al, stop antagonizing him,” Remy interjected, angling himself between his brothers. “Look, he’s serious, Alex. We need to talk. Things are … bad. Potentially horrendous.”
“Where’s Lessa?” Alex suddenly asked, as if he’d only just noted her absence.
“Excellent question,” Alcaeus said.
“Brazil,” Remy answered.
Alex frowned. “How the hell did you two get here? I can’t believe she’d risk teleporting you both this far without personally guiding the process. Surely she knew I wouldn’t stay mad at her for disobeying my orders about Milena last night?”
“She didn’t teleport us,” Remy cut to the chase. “Kai did.”
“What?” Alex all but bellowed, causing a passing stock boy I didn’t recognize to jump and nearly stumble into a table of cheese samples, distracted as he was by all of the other commotion and clean-up activity now happening in the store.
I gave him an apologetic shrug. He was probably one of the newer summer hires. God, we were still drawing so much attention. They were going to get me fired and kicked out of my own Whole Foods at this rate.
“Kai. Teleported. Us.” Alcaeus spelled out, his words clipped, his tone beyond surly.
“You’re kidding? Fuck,” Alex exhaled. “Wait … where’s Kai?”
Shocker of all shockers, I could’ve sworn I heard genuine concern bleed into Alex’s voice. Concern for Kai?
“He made it.” Alcaeus raised a reassuring palm. “He’s fine.”
“Relatively fine,” Remy clarified. “He’s puking his guts up in the men’s room at present.”
“Puking?” I erupted. “Kai’s sick?”
Alex’s eyes narrowed as they flitted between Alcaeus and Remy, clearly catching onto something I’d missed. “What’s wrong with Lessa? What happened? Why the fuck didn’t you get in touch with me sooner?”
Alcaeus rolled irritated eyes but lifted another reassuring hand. “She’s fine.”
“Relatively,” Remy once again amended.
“How relatively?” Alex snarled.
“We shouldn’t talk about it here in public,” Alcaeus said, glancing over his shoulder to scan the crowded store.
“She’s lost her powers,” Remy supplied.
“Remy, not here,” Alcaeus scolded.
“More accurately,” Remy continued, “Lessa’s powers are utterly jacked at the moment.”
A strange awareness settled in the pit of my gut. I had an awful feeling about it.
“Get over yourself, Al,” Remy rebuffed. “We’re in a fucking Whole Foods in a community populated by surfers and hippies. I spied a potential Wiccan in aisle six, but that’s the extent of the supernatural eavesdroppers we’re in danger of revealing Lessa’s condition to here.”
“What the hell happened? Where? Who? How?” Alex demanded in rapid-fire succession.
“We’re not sure,” was Remy’s unhelpful response.
Alcaeus’ chilly gaze leveled squarely on me. “We were hoping Milena might be able to tell us.”
Oh, my God! I really had injured her with that frying pan?
“Don’t look at Milena like that,” Alex growled.
“Like what?” Alcaeus challenged.
“Like she’s guilty of something.”
“She smells guilty, Alex. Don’t pretend you don’t scent it.”
“Ugh, shut it, Al,” Remy cut in. “Milena’s Catholic upbringing predisposes her to feel like everything’s her fault all the time regardless of what the reality of any given situation is. Damnit, we all know this about her. She carries that subtle aroma of self-condemnation near constantly.”
My brows shot up at Remy’s assertion. My God, they could all actually scent my ever-present Catholic girl guilt?
“Exactly,” Alex agreed. “And she feels doubly guilty right now, because she hit Lessa with a frying pan the last time she saw her. But we all know a frying pan didn’t harm or alter Lessa’s powers.”
“She’s been blocking me out since last night,” Alcaeus accused with a nod in my direction.
“Idiot!” Alex scoffed. “I’ve been blocking you out since last night. Now stop fucking looking at her like that.”
“Thank God,” Remy rejoiced. “Finally, a piece of good news. Alex, unblock him, for pity’s sake. He’s a fucking disaster like this.”
“Fuck, no, I’m not unblocking him.”
“Alex, you have to,” Remy insisted.
“Do not.” Alex crossed his arms over his chest. “Especially not while he’s looking at her like she’s some kind of criminal.”
Remy ran a hand through his hair. “Al, stop looking at her like that; we know this isn’t her fault.”
“I’ll look at her any way I want to,” Alcaeus stubbornly maintained. “She attacked my only sister.”
“Not on purpose!” Remy contended, releasing a growl at Alcaeus’ unwavering obstinacy.
“It was a fucking frying pan, guys,” Alex reminded them.
Remy groaned. “Look, Alex, I’m not one hundred percent certain what the hell is happening here, but every instinct leads me to believe Al’s not meant to be separated from Milena while holding her blood power. The power and the curse clearly go together. And just as Milena needs Al’s knowledge and experience to hold and manage the power she’s not yet equipped to handle, Al needs her energy, her forgiving nature, to help manage the emotions that fuel the curse.”
“I feel fine. Quit acting like a pussy, Remy.”
“Alex, whatever you did last night to block him has left him to deal with the curse’s unrelenting thirst for vengeance all on his own. And as innately mellow as Al’s always been, it’s taken less than eighteen hours for the emotions attached to Joaquin’s blood curse to completely fuck with his mind and emotions to the point that his personality’s being altered. Just look at him. He’s … well, he’s acting like a total dick,” Remy concluded.
“I don’t see much difference in him,” Alex rejoined. “He’s always been a dick. Normally he just cheeses and winks a lot more to throw people off track to his true nature.”
Alcaeus shook his head, chuckling scornfully. “I’m fucking fine, Remy. My reaction to my kid sister being attacked by the Salvatellas is perfectly normal and justified. It has nothing to do with any blood curse.”
“Salvatellas?” Alex hissed. “The Salvatellas attacked Lessa? Why the fuck didn’t you tell me that straight out?”
“We were just getting to it,” Alcaeus assured him. “If Remy would stop freaking out over non-issues.”
“Al, trust me on this,” Remy beseeched. “None of us are equipped to hold a revenge curse of this magnitude for any length of time on our own. The ramifications could be disastrous. It makes perfect sense to me now why someone like Milena was meant to hold it. She’s literally the perfect vessel—possibly the only person in existence capable of containing so much vengeance without being irrevocably altered by it.”
“Fucking get to the part about the Salvatellas attacking Lessa,” Alex commanded.
Remy sighed resignedly, realizing his words were destined to fall on deaf ears, as Alcaeus didn’t want to hear it and Alex’s attention had become otherwise refocused the moment Alcaeus had said “Salvatellas.”
“We came here by way of Milena’s house.” Remy cleared his throat, his eyes on me as he relayed, “Al and I spent a little time in Milena’s friend Bethany’s head. And what we uncovered was … disturbing.”
“What?” I whisper-shrieked. Crossing from Alex’s side, I jabbed my pointer finger into Remy’s chest. “How dare you? What did you do to her? How could you, Remy?”
Alex sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Remy, I know, I spent all morning sifting through that girl’s mind. But she has only good intentions toward Milena. Can we get back to Lessa and the Salvatellas, please?”
“Alex!” I protested, completely forgetting to keep my volume down. “How could you?”
“Milena”—his dark eyes supplicated—“I promise I didn’t hurt her in any way. Please, understand? It was a necessary precaution. An innocent, procedural … perusal, simply for your own protection.”
“He was searching for dirt on your exes,” Alcaeus tattled with a snort of derision. “Wasting time flipping through memories of how cute you were during your junior high awkward phase, when the real critical evidence was sitting right under his nose. And he didn’t even bother to cover his tracks. Left blank spots all over the fucking place in her memories of this morning.”
“Quite sloppy, Alex,” Remy reproved. “We taught you better than that.”
“Almost as sloppy as the holes the Salvatellas left in Bethany’s memory of Milena’s mother’s funeral,” Alcaeus announced.
What? My heart stalled. And then it sprinted. Pumping a mile a minute.
Alex visibly paled. I felt his distress level spike beyond anything I was sure I’d ever sensed from him before. And it terrified me more than the bomb Alcaeus had so negligently just detonated. Because beyond the crisscrossed layers of anger, frustration, and indignation that I sensed boiling to life just beneath his surface, Alex Reinoso actually looked like he might be scared.
His voice was incongruously flat and tranquil though when he finally spoke. One word.
Alcaeus and Remy shared a look.
“They were there, Alex,” Remy confirmed quietly, evenly. I knew he had to be sensing Alex’s internal volcano of conflicting emotions frothing to life as well, even as Alex shook his head in denial.
“Four of them attended the funeral,” Remy said. “They’ve known about Milena this entire time. For at least the last three and a half—maybe four—months.”
Remy’s words sent the worst sort of shiver of dread through me, like icy fingers reaching past my rib cage and wrapping around my heart.
“What?” Alex repeated. Still calm.
“We believe they set this whole thing up,” Remy confided, his eyes darting back and forth between my face and Alex’s now, gauging our respective reactions. “That they used Felix to deliver Milena to us. On purpose,” he stressed.
The icy fingers squeezed, so hard my heart burned as it tried to pump on through the frost claiming it.
“What?” Alex asked blankly again. “What are you saying?”
“Christ, isn’t it obvious?” Alcaeus exploded. “We’ve been fucking played, Alex. For all this time! We walked straight into their best trap to date.”
“No,” Alex refuted with a minute shake of his head. His gaze shifted in my direction, yet his eyes stared past me. Vacant. Emotionless. Lost.
And it hurt worse than the knowledge Remy and Alcaeus were imparting—suddenly feeling so disconnected, so severed emotionally from him.
“Why? No. They couldn’t have.” Alex seemed to be deliberating aloud to himself. “Those actions make no sense. They would never deliver the coveted vessel right into our hands.”
“They would if they thought she was the ultimate weapon to destroy you,” Alcaeus contended. “To destroy all of us.”
“Preposterous!” Alex rejected, a measure of emotion at last bleeding through. “They had no way of knowing she’d be my mate. And they knew damned well the laws of our pack, so they knew we’d have no choice but to terminate her life upon arrival. So what then? You’re saying they knowingly chose to sacrifice a vessel by delivering her straight to her execution? That’s moronic, Al!”
Alcaeus shook his head. “It’s a lot more complicated than we ever thought.”
“We know Gabe wants her alive!” Alex yelled, his rage abruptly slipping.
“O-kaay…” Remy glanced around us, taking stock of the increasing number of curious eyes now gawking in our direction. “Maybe we should move this elsewhere after all? We don’t have the time to waste erasing a whole town of minds just now.”
There was an explosion somewhere on the other side of the store. Followed by another. And another. It appeared as if end-aisle displays were spontaneously combusting. The ensuing ruckus proved more than sufficient to distract onlookers from our bizarre line of conversation. Remy rolled his eyes and tugged nervously on the back of his neck at Alex’s latest handiwork.
“Let’s suppose for motives beyond our current comprehension, they actually did want Milena out of the picture. They would’ve just taken her out themselves long before we ever knew she existed,” Alex reasoned. “Why would they bother to concoct some grand setup just to get me to execute her? For what purpose? To further incite and wield Raul’s wrath against me? They needn’t have gone to such trouble. I’d already accomplished that for them and they knew it! It doesn’t add up, Al.”
I didn’t want him to try to add it up. I just wanted him to hold me. To at least look at me right now. I was starting to feel invisible.
“It does if they knew enough about the blood curse to know what it would unleash,” Alcaeus countered. “And if they knew they were already so far ahead in this game they’d have no problem running it from the inside.”
The ice encasing my heart started pumping through my veins now, chilling me to my bones.
“Think about it, Alex?” Alcaeus appealed. “This whole thing smacked of a fucking setup from the start. Felix went with Raul to see Gabe. Why? According to Kaleb and countless others, those two barely got along. Certainly they were never friends. Their bizarre alliance in this whole betrayal scenario has never fit.”
“Felix was never my friend.” Raul’s words from our dream reunion in the forest echoed through my mind, as did the look of disgust on his face as he’d fervently denied the very notion he and Felix had ever been friends.
“And there’s the fact that Felix tipped Milena off to my powers that first night,” Remy chimed in. “After kidnapping and roughing her up, he warned her and urged her to guard her mind from me. Actually pleaded with her to resist us. Hardly the logical course of action for someone who’d been set on delivering someone to their death in the first place.”
I’d started shaking at some point, because I could hear my teeth chattering. Why didn’t Alex hear?
“Exactly,” Alcaeus concurred. “Gabe’s been pulling the strings all along. We’re dealing with another Luiza scenario all over again times ten thousand.”
“Milena is not another Luiza scenario,” Alex decried. “She is my mate.”
Wait … I was the ill-fated Luiza in this scenario?
“But that’s the best part of it all,” Alcaeus acceded. “And they just fucking lucked their way into that one. I mean using your nanny to try and slaughter you was insidiously vicious for sure, but forcing your own mate to kill you, well, that’s pervertedly vile brilliance.”
I was the Luiza in this scenario?
“Seriously, Al,” Remy complained. “Can you please not draw out his wolf while we’re inside of Whole Foods?”
“Gabe was controlling Felix; he had to be. He used him. Just like he’s using Raul.” Alcaeus’ eyes drifted to my face, which I was certain could only be contorted into a mask of pained horror at this point. “Like no doubt he’s been planning to use Milena all along.”
“No,” Alex murmured to himself. “No.” He seemed lost again. He still wasn’t looking at me.
“You know it makes sense, Alex,” Alcaeus asserted. “He’s already used her to attack Lessa. There’s no other explanation for Lessa’s present condition. Milena turning out to be your mate was simply unexpected icing on the cake of your destruction for Gabe. Because she’s the vessel, she can’t be marked by you, so regardless of whether she’s your true mate, your death won’t harm her.”
With each crushing revelation my psyche sank further into a bleak and frightening abyss of hopelessness.
Remy grunted in disgust and buried his face in his hands. “Fuck, Al, he’s going to run out of things to blow up.”
“So Gabe uses her to take you and the rest of us out,” Alcaeus continued, unimpeded by Remy’s plea, “and then he gets to keep her for himself when the job’s done, enlisting her own brother’s assistance and his usual methods of emotional molestation to break her mind down and eventually win her over until she’s convinced that none of her present feelings for you or the rest of us were ever real to begin with.”
My gut churned as Alcaeus drove the knife impossibly deeper.
A middle-aged lady, sporting a perma-tan and wearing more turquoise jewelry than taste and rational good judgment should ever permit, chose that exact moment to poke her head into our inner circle and intrude upon our conversation.
“Are you guys actors? Are you filming a scene right now? Those were some nifty explosions.” She looked all around us. “But where are the cameras set up?”
“Ugh, bloody fucking Christ,” Alcaeus bemoaned, scrubbing a hand over his face.
“Hey, beautiful,” Remy addressed the lady, instantly gaining her wandering eyes’ full attention as her entire face lit up and blushed at the compliment. “Leave now and forget you ever saw or heard us, please and thank you.”
“Or we will kill you,” Kai’s voice tacked on from directly behind me. “Painfully,” he appended. “And I will relish every single moment.”
Despite the horridly sick and evil words he’d just spoken to an innocent—albeit annoying—stranger, I found myself whipping around in excitement at Kai’s most welcome presence.
“Kai!” I exclaimed the obvious.
“Milena.” He smiled weakly back at me.
He looked awful. Like he might actually be sick again at any second. But not even the prospect of getting puked on or the embarrassment of knowing I’d sexually propositioned him during our last encounter was enough to stop me from seeking his comfort now. I threw my arms around his waist with so much force he “oomf”d and groaned a little in discomfort. He didn’t embrace me back, just stood stiffly within my arms. But I didn’t care. I was shivering cold and he was warm. And he wasn’t pushing me away.
“I’m the next Luiza,” I told him, tears springing to my eyes. “They think I’m another Luiza.”
“I don’t think you’re another Luiza,” Kai consoled, his arms gradually, cautiously wrapping around me, pulling me in closer.
There was no growling from Alex in the background. No jealous protestations or threats were thrown Kai’s way. I’d never imagined I would miss that archaic reaction from him. But its absence made me want to sob now. “Alcaeus hates me. Alex won’t look at me. He thinks I’m a Salvatella pawn who’s going to try to kill him.”
“Al’s emotions are being manipulated by a revenge curse at present,” Kai said, his hand moving to cradle the back of my head where I had burrowed into his chest, my tears beginning to soak his linen shirt. “Alex doesn’t really believe you’d ever harm him.” Alex said nothing, neither confirming nor denying Kai’s statement. “Milena, we’ve all lost important loved ones to the Salvatellas in the past. Forgive us for being a bit on edge over this most recent discovery.”
“Right,” Remy corroborated after an awkward spell of silence.
“Because you’ve quickly become very important to all of us,” Kai professed softly. “And none of us want to lose you.”
“Right,” Remy echoed again.
Alcaeus and Alex said nothing.
“Least of all Alex,” Kai said.
“Alex?” Kai finally prompted over my head. “We’ll figure this out. She’s not a weapon. She won’t blow up in your arms. I know you want to hold her right now.”
Sadly, I was fairly certain Kai was mistaken. But then Alex’s scent drew blessedly closer, and I felt his warmth at my back, his hands reaching for me, his arms winding around my midsection as he extracted me from Kai’s embrace and pulled me into his own.
“I’m sorry,” he said, squeezing me so tightly I could scarcely breathe. He kissed the top of my head.
“I won’t try to kill you,” I pledged through a fresh torrent of tears. “Promise I won’t. I would never. I’m not like your nanny.”
“’Course not. I know.”
“They can’t have been in my head. I would know it if they had. And I would remember it. I would remember.” I repeated those words again and again as Alex swayed me back and forth in his arms. Because I had to believe it. The alternative was too disturbing. Too devastating to accept.
“Of course you would,” Alex soothed. “I’m sure you would.”
“I know myself, and I know on some level I’d know it if someone had crept around inside my mind—even if they’d done something to try and make me forget it. I wouldn’t forget! On some deeper level I’d have this sense of it. I can’t explain it, but I know that’s how it would be for me. I just know I would know it if the Salvatellas had been inside my head—”
“No, Milena,” Alcaeus’ hard bass interrupted my rambled rationalizations. “You wouldn’t.”
Lifting my head from Alex’s chest, my watery eyes settled on Alcaeus.
“Bad timing,” Remy mumble-cough-mumbled. “Really bad timing, Al.”
Alcaeus’ eyes had softened, his expression less hostile and more regretful now as he addressed me. “Milena, I know for a fact you wouldn’t remember. Because I also know you never dreamt about Lucia your first night in Brazil. I visited you in your dream that night. And yet you still remember it as a dream of Lucia, because that’s the memory I chose to give you to fill the hole, cover my tracks, and prevent Alex from finding out I’d been there.”
Just like that, the tenuous fabric of my sanity was once again torn asunder. I was probably also going to lose the contents of my stomach.
And the very fabric of reality was blasted apart for all of the humans in the grocery store a second later when Alcaeus’ body went flying through the air, hurtling into and tearing through two solid and fully stocked long metal shelves of canned foods, dry goods, and snack foods. I heard Kai groan in aggravation and Remy swear as patrons screamed and scattered in all directions.
“Well, then.” Remy sighed. “Let’s start erasing.”