V’Aidan had no fear for himself, only that they would come while he was too weak to protect her.
“Oh my gosh, it’s you. It’s really you!”
Erin reached up and touched his swollen jaw where one of the creatures had struck him hard. She brushed his hair back from his forehead and caught the panicked look in his eyes before he shielded it.
Even though bruises and cuts marred his face, she’d never seen anything more spectacular than V’Aidan alive and in her bed.
He was human.
She didn’t know how she had managed it. Maybe it was her determination combined with his powers that had been forcing her away from him. Maybe it was a lot of things.
But all that mattered right now was that he was here with her. He wasn’t a dream.
V’Aidan was a real-life man.
“I have to get out of here,” he said, trying to get up. “I don’t belong here.”
No, he belonged to her dreams, and yet…
He was actually here. With her.
“I’m bleeding?” he asked, looking at his arm in disbelief. “Is this blood? This is blood. I’m bleeding.”
She nodded, torn between the desire to cry for his wounds and to laugh out loud that she had somehow managed to bring him back with her.
“I need to get you to a doctor.”
“No!” He winced. “I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not…”
V’Aidan paused. “I’m not human.” He closed his eyes to teleport himself home. It didn’t work.
Over and over he tried, and over and over he failed.
His heart pounded. It had been untold millennia since he had walked the mortal realm.
He’d forgotten the vividness of this world. The brightness of the colors and sharpness of sounds and smells.
Erin slid off the bed and disappeared while he tried to sort through it. How could he be here where she could see him?
How could he bleed real blood?
It had to be the fact that his demigod essence had been drained out of him during his beating.
The only way to kill a god was to remove all powers from him, which was what the Skoti had been doing. Erin’s mind must have found some way to bring him over the threshold in that last moment before he died.
He should be in Tartarus by now, paying for his crimes for the rest of eternity. But somehow she had saved him. Somehow she had brought him here. There was no other explanation.
The power of her mind and spirit was phenomenal.
Erin returned with a damp washcloth. Carefully she wiped the blood from his face and body.
V’Aidan trembled at the softness of her hand and the way the cloth felt gliding over his flesh. She was always so kind. Until her, he had never understood that concept. Never known what it was to help someone else.
Before he realized what he was doing, he captured her lips, then winced as pain swept along his swollen jaw.
“Ow,” he said again, pulling back.
Erin slid her hands over his chest as she inspected his wounds. In dreams, her touch had been muted, now it possessed a tender heat unimaginable. It left him breathless and raw.
V’Aidan reached out and cupped her face so that he could study her beautiful features. “Why are you helping me?”
“Because you need it.”
He couldn’t fathom such an unselfish reason. Such things didn’t exist in his realm.
“You need to rest.”
“I need clothes,” he said.
“I will have to buy you some.”
“Purchase. You don’t just walk into a store and have them give you what you need.”
V’Aidan listened to the patience in her voice. Patience he wasn’t used to. He knew so little about her human world. He’d been relegated to viewing it through the distortions of dreams and nightmares.
The pain inside him, he did know. It was the only emotion left to his kind. It was why they invaded human sleep. There they could feel other things. Even muted emotions were better than none at all.
“Would you… please,” he forced the foreign word out, “get me some clothes?”
Incredible. She was so willing to help him. He was baffled by it. Slowly, carefully, he left the bed and walked around her room.
Erin’s entire body shook as she left him to fetch a tape measure. How could this be real?
Was she still dreaming? There was a surrealness to this that made it seem like fantasy, and yet…
She cursed as she stubbed her toe against the plant stand in her living room.
No, that pain was real.
This wasn’t a dream. V’Aidan was really in her world, and if she had pulled him here, maybe, just maybe, she could keep him here.
Erin! What are you thinking? A man like V’Aidan doesn’t belong here. He’s not even human.
And yet he was more human, more man, than anyone else she’d ever known.
She didn’t want him to leave. And that thought frightened her most of all.
V’Aidan looked up as Erin returned a few minutes later with a strange cloth coil. “What is that?” he asked as she approached him while unwinding it.
“It’s a tape measure. I need to know your size to buy your pants.”
She wrapped a portion of it around his waist, her hands raising chills on his body, her touch raising another part of him as well.
“Thirty-three waist,” she said, her breath falling on his chest.
She sank to her knees before him.
V’Aidan shivered at the sight of her brown hair between his knees as she bent to place one edge of the tape on the floor by his foot. She ran it up the inside of his leg.
Erin swallowed at the strength of his body. And when she reached his groin, her heart pounded. He was rigid and hard, and when her hand lightly brushed his sac, he hissed sharply.
“Thirty-six,” she said absently, her gaze catching his.
The heat there was intense, and for the first time, she was actually afraid of him. He was a living man now, one who could possess who knew what strengths and powers in this world.
And they were alone in her house.
V’Aidan took her hand in his and led it to his erection. “I need you to touch me, Erin,” he whispered, trailing her hand down the length of his shaft. He shivered from her softness. “I need to know that this is real and not… not a dream.”
Because deep in his heart he was afraid this was nothing more than Hades tormenting him already. Perhaps he was dead and this was the way they intended to torture him.
Erin quivered at the sensation of his hard, hot manhood in her palm, and his strong, tapered hand leading her strokes. In her dreams, she’d always been uninhibited with him. Her phantom lover had never been real, only a figment of her imagination.
But it was a living, warm body she touched now. One of flesh and blood. A beautiful, masculine body that made her quiver and burn with something more than lust.
The look in his eyes scorched her. And she knew what he wanted. He wanted comfort. He needed to know that she still cared for him. Even in this world that was alien to him.
Was he as afraid of all this as she was?
How long could they be together before their respective worlds tore them apart?
V’Aidan knew he should release her, yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He needed her. Needed her touch in a way that defied explanation.
She rose up on her knees and, to his utter shock, placed her mouth on him. He moaned at the feeling of her lips against the tip of his shaft, of her hot tongue stroking him. She cupped him gently with one hand, stroking his sac in time with the flicks of her tongue against him.
Never had anyone touched him like this. He felt weak before her. Powerless against her.
And in that moment, he knew he would never again be able to let her go.
Dear Zeus, what was he to do?
She was mortal and he…
He was cursed.
Erin stroked and soothed him, and when he released himself she didn’t pull away.
Only when he was drained and weak did she pull back and look up at him. Then slowly, meticulously, she kissed her way up his body until she stood before him.
“It’ll all be okay, V’Aidan,” she whispered. “I promise.”
No, it wouldn’t. He knew better. There was no way to hide from the others. Sooner or later, they would come.
But he didn’t want to scare her. Someway, he would protect her. No matter the cost to him.
He gathered her into his arms and held her close. If he could, he would fly her away from here. Take her back to the Vanishing Isle and keep her forever.
And then he felt it. Felt the evil presence of his sister. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. In this condition he would never be able to stop Krysti’Ana.
The phone rang.
“I’ll be right back.”
He released her; all the while he looked around trying to find Krysti’Ana. Her malevolence washed over him. Somehow she knew he was here.
He reached out with his thoughts, but in his weakened, wounded state he couldn’t contact her.
It didn’t matter.
He knew his sister’s unspoken promise. She would be coming soon and he would have to find some way to protect Erin from her clutches.
Erin returned. “Sorry about that. It was a friend from work.” She headed toward her bathroom. “I’m going to take a quick shower, then buy your clothes, okay?”
He nodded but didn’t speak. He couldn’t. Not when thoughts of his siblings occupied his mind.
He walked around Erin’s small apartment, trying to find where his sister could be hiding. He found nothing, and as the minutes went by, his sense of her grew weaker, though whether from her leaving or from his own diminishing powers, he wasn’t sure.
Erin left the bathroom, her face bright and rosy. “I can’t believe I have you here.” She threw herself into his arms and held him tight. “Oh, V’Aidan, tell me they can’t get you now.”
He opened his mouth to answer her honestly, then stopped himself. He didn’t want to steal the happiness from her bright brown eyes.
“We’re safe,” he said, the word sticking in his throat.
She kissed him then, hot and passionately, then left him alone while she went for his clothing.
V’Aidan returned to lie on the bed and rest himself. If he could sleep, he could replenish his strength a lot faster, but he didn’t dare close his eyes. Didn’t dare fall asleep where he could reenter his world.
They would be waiting for him. With Erin’s help, he had escaped them before. But he was sure there wouldn’t be a second escape.
Sooner or later, they would take him; then Erin would be alone.
A little while later, V’Aidan heard Erin enter the apartment. Her shoes made the lightest of noises on the carpet. Even so, he knew her distinctive walk. Knew her scent, her sound. Knew things about her he’d never known about anyone else.
He turned over in the bed as she entered the room with a bag in her hands.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said.
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
She moved forward and set the bag on the foot of the bed, then came to rest beside him. She placed her hand against his brow, then frowned.
“How do you feel?” she asked gently.
“Like I’ve been beaten.”
She rolled her eyes at his blasé tone. “You have a pretty bad fever there. Maybe I should – ”
“You can’t call a doctor, Erin. Just because I appear human, it doesn’t make me one of you.”
“I know.” She sat by his side and brushed his hair back from his damp brow. “So what are we going to do?”
He took her hand in his and ran the backs of her knuckles along his jaw, which had already begun to heal. Her touch was sublime. He’d never known such a thing existed. “I don’t know.”
“I was thinking while I was out that maybe we could find a ceremony or something to make you human. Some kind of ritual.”
He smiled at the idea. “It’s a good thought, love, but there’s no such thing.”
V’Aidan watched her then, and it was on the tip of his tongue to explain to her exactly what he was. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not after they had been through so much.
All he wanted was to enjoy what little time they had, and with that thought, he forced himself to get up.
Erin protested his movements as he dressed. “You’re still hurt.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said dismissively. “My kind heals fast.”
Erin growled low in her throat as she watched him dress. The man wouldn’t listen.
Insufferably male, he refused to relax for the rest of the day. He wouldn’t even stay behind and rest while she went to the grocery store.
But she had to admit she really did like having him along. She’d lived alone for so long that she hadn’t realized just how much fun someone could have in the produce department.
“So,” V’Aidan said as she thumped a cantaloupe, “what are you listening for?”
She held it up to his ear and thumped. “This one is too ripe.” Then she held up another one and let him hear the difference. “This one isn’t.”