Of course, we all wanted to stay and help Artemis with her quest to save Sayeh, but taking another look at Persephone, I worried.
“You need to rest first, Seph,” the force of my voice surprised me. “We will tend to you while we plan our strategy. Once you’re feeling stronger, we will head out.”
“Yes,” Arty agreed. I looked around the circle. Everyone but Persephone nodded in agreement. She was stubborn. I honestly think if she would have been stronger, she would have crossed her arms and glared at me.
I gave her my best talk to the hand gesture. “Hey…we’re family, and we need to watch out for each other. It will only be a slight delay. I think we could use a little time to gather ourselves. We’ve all been through a lot.”
That was an understatement.
Morpheus clasped his hands around Persephone’s, dwarfing her pale fingers beneath his. The fight left her eyes, and she let out a resigned sigh.
“We love you, silly. That’s the only concern,” I assured my sister, noting the effect my friend had on her. There were more nods and acknowledgments from the group. Selene squeezed Artemis’s arm and pulled her close. Medusa stared at the flames and twirled a stick she was using to poke the fire.
I hoped that Persephone wouldn’t find out about all that we’d already encountered before finding her. She didn’t need that negative energy weighing her down.
Morpheus sat close to Persephone, speaking to her in hushed tones. Athena, Artemis, and Selene stepped several feet away to plan the rest of the trek. Athena’s animated movements made me smile as I watched them. Medusa continued to busy herself at the fire, keeping the flames low and steady. I stepped away from the group and gathered a few large leaves along with a coconut shell filled with moon water. When I returned, Morpheus moved to allow me access to Persephone. I washed the dried blood from her arms and legs, sending her positive energy and stroking her skin with the damp leaves. Once I finished, Morpheus stopped pacing and returned to her side. My worry about Persephone lessened as she relaxed under his protective gaze. I was truly happy that they found each other, yet, I felt a tiny twinge of jealousy watching them and not knowing how long it would be until I’d see Apollo.
Part of me wondered if Apollo knew that Artemis would need help on this trip. I still thought it was suspicious that he pushed me to go, especially without him. Artemis’s vulnerability over Sayeh might have triggered his twin sense. But if that was the case, why didn’t he come along? Whether he intuited that something was wrong, it bothered me that he didn’t join us. It was probably the hundredth time I’d rolled the whole thing over in my mind.
# # #
“U, please come to bed,” Apollo’s voice wavered for a moment, falling somewhere between a plea and a flirtation. “You need to sleep. And I need you.”
I crossed over to the bed, hovered above him, and placed a kiss on his lips before leaving the room to grab my laptop. When I returned, he was on his back, hands folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling. “This is crazy, you know. It is not your job to clean up the mess that Melpomene made. Thalia can help her, and then our life might get back to normal.” He twisted beneath the sheet, rolling over to his side to watch me.
I paced the bedroom, looking for the adapter for my computer. “I know it is not my responsibility, but I also know that Melly is in no shape to do this on her own. Believe me, Thalia can barely handle Melpomene on the regular, and this is not a normal situation.”
“So, before you get busy with this fantasy of chartering boats and traipsing off after memory smugglers, I have something I wanted to show you.” He sat up in bed, the sheet pooling around his bare hip bones.
Turning, I shrugged and lifted a pile of clothes off the chair, uncovering my power cord. “I’ve seen that before. Twice today already, if I remember correctly.” I gave him a wicked smile.
“Ha. Ha. Very funny. That’s not what I was talking about. Will you please stop and talk to me?” he asked.
Facing him, I folded my arms across my chest and waited for a lecture. His eyes tried to meet mine, but I looked beyond him.
“I was going to surprise you,” he started after a pause.
I shifted focus and gazed directly at him.
He reached into the nightstand and pulled out an envelope. “Here…” he stated, a firm note of conviction in his voice.
“What is it?” I countered.
“Look for yourself.” His eyes danced, challenging me.
I stepped toward him and took the envelope. I opened it and pulled out a printed itinerary with my name on it. “A cruise? You’re taking me on a cruise?” I smiled at his deviousness.
“Not exactly,” he replied. “I’m not going.”
“What?!?” My face fell.
“I need to stay home and oversee the last of the construction,” he answered, watching my face to gauge my reaction.
“Uh-uh.” My heart skipped a frantic beat at the thought of him sending me off without him. “I already found someone else to do it.”
“Yeah, right. Who?” he asked, his mouth turning into a scowl.
“Adrian,” I said, moving my head to avoid his eyes.
“Your favorite painter? Really, U?” He sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. “I’m not quite sure how to feel about that,” he said. “I knew that he had been sniffing around, hinting for a job at the art therapy center.”
I sat down on the edge of the bed. “Not ‘sniffing around’. He’s only been hinting because I didn’t offer him the job right away.”
“Why not?” he asked, drawing the two words out.
Resting my hand against his hip, my fingers trailed across his waist. “I didn’t want you to be jealous.” I laughed and then leaned in to kiss him. “Not that you have a reason to be.”
“But you offered him a job,” he said as he came up for air, pushing me back. “You hired Adrian?” Notes of annoyance and suspicion tinged his voice.
“Only because I thought you were coming with me to help Melly, and someone needed to ensure that things would be finished on time.”
“Well, I’m staying right here, so you can tell Adrian to find work elsewhere. Or better yet, I’ll tell him. And I’ll make sure everything is finished while you’re enjoying the cruise.” He smiled at me then, apparently pleased with his own argument and decisiveness.
“Why on earth would I go on a cruise without you?” I asked, my brain trying to catch up with his convoluted logic.
“It’s a girls’ trip. Arty and Selene are going. I think Medusa and Athena are as well. Persephone, I think? And a few others. I’ve heard a lot of talk about it around the God Complex, and I thought you could really use a break after everything we’ve been through.”
“But…I need to help Melpomene,” I felt the irrational sting of tears threatening at being forced to defend my position.
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea. If you still feel like it is something you need to do, we can figure it out when you get back from the cruise. By then, I’ll be able to go with you.”
Before I could protest, he slid his hand behind my neck and pulled me close for another deep kiss. “We’ve been through too much in the past few months. I need to make sure you are okay.”
A feeling I almost didn’t recognize as relief flooded through me. I honestly didn’t want to go on the cruise, but it warmed my heart that someone was looking out for me. A sense of comfort stole over me as I realized that he just wanted me safe. As hard as it was to accept, and as foreign as it felt, I appreciated it.
“This can wait,” I purred as I placed the laptop on the nightstand and slipped against him.
# # #
I felt the now-familiar twist of my insides thinking about my own reasons for the trip. The same reasons I chose not to reveal to Apollo. My stomach hurt from the stress. I didn’t like lying to him. It’s not really a lie…just an omission. And if the stress of a potential lie was bothering me, how could I think I was going to pull off anything more?
The sudden pop and hiss of the firewood caused me to jump. After my capture by the Varulven wolves, my nerves jangled at every little sound. As much as I loved the night sky, being exposed on an island full of wolves and tribes looking to sacrifice, left me unsteady. The stars tried soothing me, but it wasn’t working. Experiencing life in the wilderness made for uncontrollable jumpiness on my part. I took a deep breath in and exhaled in a slow stream of air, hoping to calm myself down. I looked around our little mishmash camp and at the faces of the others. Each of them meant a lot to me in their own special way. It was strange how close we’d grown in such a short time.
I asked the universe to protect us and secretly wondered if we would make it off the island alive.