By: Jennifer L. Armentrout


RED SILK CLUNG TO MY HIPS, TWISTING INTO A TIGHT bodice that accentuated my curves. My hair was down, silky around my shoulders like the petals of an exotic flower. The lights in the ballroom caught each ripple in the fabric so that, with every step, I looked like I was blooming from fire.

He stopped, lips parting as if the mere sight of me had rendered him incapable of doing anything else. A warm blush stole over my skin. This wouldn’t end well—not when we were surrounded by people and he was looking at me like that, but I couldn’t make myself leave. I belonged here, with him. That had been the right choice.

The choice I… hadn’t made.

Dancers slowed around me, their faces hidden behind dazzling bejeweled masks. The haunting melody the orchestra played slipped under my skin and sunk into my bones as the dancers parted.

Nothing separated us.

I tried to breathe, but he had stolen not just my heart, but the very air I needed.

He stood there, dressed in a black tux cut to fit the hard lines of his body. A lopsided smile, full of mischief and playfulness, curved his lips as he bowed at the waist, extending his arm toward me.

My legs felt weak as I took the first step. The twinkling lights from above lit the way to him, but I would’ve found him in the dark if necessary. The beat of his heart sounded just like mine.

His smile spread.

That was all the reinforcement I needed. I took off toward him, the dress streaming behind me in a river of crimson silk. He straightened, catching me by the waist as I looped my arms around his neck. I burrowed my face against his chest, soaking in the scent of ocean and burning leaves.

Everyone was watching, but it didn’t matter. We were in our own world, where only what we wanted—what we’d desired for so long—mattered.

He chuckled deeply as he spun me around. My feet didn’t even touch the ballroom floor. “So reckless,” he murmured.

I smiled in response, knowing he secretly loved that part of me.

Placing me on my feet, he clasped my hand and placed the other on the small of my back. When he spoke again, his voice was a low, sultry whisper. “You look so beautiful, Alex.”

My heart swelled. “I love you, Aiden.”

He kissed the top of my head, and then we spun in dizzying circles. Couples slowly joined us, and I caught glimpses of wide smiles and strange eyes behind the masks—eyes completely white, no irises. Unease spread. Those eyes… I knew what they meant. We drifted toward a corner where I heard soft cries coming from the darkness.

I peered into the shadowy corner of the ballroom. “Aiden…?”

“Shh.” His hand slipped up my spine and cupped the nape of my neck. “Do you love me?”

Our eyes met and held. “Yes. Yes. I love you more than anything.”

Aiden’s smile faded. “Do you love me more than him?”

I stilled in his suddenly lax embrace. “More than who?”

“Him,” Aiden repeated. “Do you love me more than him?”

My gaze fell past him again, to the darkness. Aman had his back to us. He was pressed against a woman, his lips on her throat.

“Do you love me more than him?”

“Who?” I tried to press closer, but he held me back. Uncertainty blossomed in my belly when I saw the disappointment in his silvery eyes. “Aiden, what’s wrong?”

“You don’t love me.” He dropped his hands, stepping back. “Not when you’re with him, when you chose him.”

The man twisted at the waist, facing us. Seth smiled, his gaze offering a world of dark promises. Promises that I’d agreed to, that I’d chosen.

“You don’t love me,” Aiden said again, fading into the shadows. “You can’t. You never could.”

I reached for him. “But—”

It was too late. The dancers converged and I was lost in a sea of dresses and whispered words. I pushed at them, but I couldn’t break through, couldn’t find Aiden or Seth. Someone pushed me and I fell to my knees, the red silk ripping. I cried out for Aiden and then Seth, but neither heeded my pleas. I was lost, staring up at faces hidden behind masks, staring at strange eyes. I knew those eyes.

They were the eyes of the gods.

I jerked straight up in bed, a fine sheen of sweat covering my body as my heart continued to try to come out of my chest. Several moments passed before my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I recognized the bare walls of my dorm room.