The Shadow Prince Page 34

“It’s okay,” I say to him. “I’m fine. I forgot my phone, that’s all.” I turn to Tobin. “I should get him home.”

“Need help?”

I shake my head. He doesn’t need to see any more of Joe in his grief-stricken state—which was probably spurred on by his vodka-stricken state.

I sling Gibby over my shoulder in her case and take my bike from Tobin. It’s a juggling act, but I lead Joe back to the house. I’m hoping I won’t have to search for his house keys in the pockets of his robe when Marta meets us at the door. She looks like she arrived a few seconds before us.

“There you are!” she says to Joe. “You let him go out like this?” she says to me with a stern look.

“Let had nothing to do with it.” I pass Joe off to Marta. “He’s your job, not mine.”

“Why don’t I know what any of Daphne’s shoes look like?” Joe asks her.

“Let’s get you to bed,” she says, ignoring his question as if this sort of thing is an everyday occurrence for her.

“Daphne,” he calls down the stairs as Marta leads him up to his bedroom. “I’m glad you’re still here. I’m glad you didn’t go away.”

“Come on, Joe, bed,” Marta says, like she’s coaxing a dog.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Joe calls as they disappear down the hall. “On Monday. You’ll see. I promise.”

I don’t know what he means by that, but I have a feeling I’m not going to like whatever it is he has in mind.

Chapter nineteen

HADEN

“What are you talking about?” Dax asks Simon as we stand in his living room. “What do you mean, what Haden did in the grove? He’s been with us the whole time.”

“We both know that’s not true,” Simon says. “Why don’t you ask Haden what he did when he snuck out this afternoon?”

I feel like I’ve been struck with a mace. “You told him I left?” I ask Dax, like an accusation.

“No,” he says. “But what is he talking about? I thought you went straight there and back?”

I don’t know how to answer his question. I’ve lied to him and there are no easy words to explain that.

“Your boy here broke one of the biggest rules of this here Champion gig,” Simon says. “And only a few hours into his first day. Apparently, young Haden had a busy afternoon.”

“Haden, what is Simon talking about? What did you do?” Dax goes pale. “The girl they found in the lake. When you went to the grove … you didn’t …?”

I am dumbstruck.

“Girl? What girl in the lake?” Simon says, sounding surprised. “Have you been even busier than I thought?”

“No! I didn’t hurt anyone,” I say. “Yes, I snuck out, and I may have tried to grab my Boon, but I certainly didn’t—”

“Whoa,” Dax says. “You tried to grab who? Daphne? When did this happen? What? Why? How?”

“I didn’t do anything,” I start to say, but I can tell that the guilt is showing in my voice. I let my shoulders sag, resigned to admitting the truth. “I made a mistake, Dax.”

His eyes widen. “Did you … did you do something to your Boon? The girl they found in the lake?”

“No!” It shakes me to my core that Dax would even ask me such a thing. “I mean, yes, I did something to my Boon but I didn’t hurt her. All I did was try to grab her and take her through the gate. And, yes, I know it was a stupid mistake. But that’s all I did. I don’t know who this other girl is, nor what happened to her.”

Dax’s face turns red. “That’s all? That’s all? How did you …? Where did you …? How did you even find her so quickly?”

“When I snuck out earlier, I went to go check on the gate, like I said I did. And she was in the grove, like she’d been placed there just for me. The gate was still active and I thought it was a gift from the Fates. I thought I could be the fastest-returning Champion in the history of the Underrealm.”

“That’s the damn foolest thing I have ever heard,” Simon says. “Don’t they train you children anymore?”

“Haden was not one of the Elite,” Dax says. He sounds like he’s trying to placate Simon, but his words make me feel that he sees me as an inferior Champion as the others do.

“Well, weren’t you told this wasn’t a snatch-and-grab job?” Simon says. “Do you know what happens if you try to take a mortal through the gate against her own free will? Don’t you think there’s been some idiot Champion who’s tried it before? The gate doesn’t work that way. The girl has to want to go with you.”

“I tried to make her say she’d come with me.”

“She can’t just say it. Every fiber of her being has got to want to go. If not, she dies. And so do you. If you had tried to bring her through that gate, you’d both be a couple of pillars of dust right now. And then where would we be?”

“Ah Hades, Simon, I didn’t know you cared so much,” I say.

Something flashes in his eyes, and suddenly I regret my snark. In a movement much faster than I thought him capable of, he is in my face. One hand slams the wall next to my head, and the other grabs me by the throat. “Listen, you koprophage, we all have things riding on this quest of yours.” His breath reeks of something earthy and bitter. “You mess up like that again and you’ll be holding your intestines in your hands. Do you understand me?”

I try to nod, but it’s impossible with him gripping my throat. I try to raise my hands to push him off me, but Simon stares into my eyes and says, “Drop your arms.”

I don’t know why, but I follow his order, my arms falling to my sides.

“That’s enough,” Dax says, approaching.

Simon looks at him. “Be still,” he says, and then trains his gaze back on me. “Both of you.”

Dax stops moving, and I make my body as still as a tree, and all thoughts of struggling out of his grasp leave my head. I can’t move, even though I want to.

“Say it,” Simon says. “Beg for it.”

At first, I think he means that he wants me to say I understand him, but then I realize that he wants me to invoke elios.

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