Kate must choose.
During nine months of captivity, Kate Winters has survived a jealous goddess, a vengeful Titan and a pregnancy she never asked for. Now the Queen of the Gods wants her unborn child, and Kate can't stop heruntil Cronus offers a deal.
In exchange for her loyalty and devotion, the King of the Titans will spare humanity and let Kate keep her child. Yet even if Kate agrees, he'll destroy Henry, her mother and the rest of council. And if she refuses, Cronus will tear the world apart until every last god and mortal is dead.
With the fate of everyone she loves resting on her shoulders, Kate must do the impossible: find a way to defeat the most powerful being in existence, even if it costs her everything.
Even if it costs her eternity.
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I bolted upright in the darkness. My forehead was damp with sweat as the dream faded, but his scream enveloped me, imprinting itself on my memory.
Another vision, one of dozens I'd had since leaving the Underworld an eternity ago. This time, however, I wasn't watching Henry go about his life as ruler of the dead as he waited for me to return. I wasn't standing by helplessly as Ava gave Henry false updates about where in Africa we were supposedly searching for Rhea.
Finally Henry knew what had really happened, and in the minutes before dawn broke through the night, I clung to the hope that it wasn't too late.
"A nightmare, my dear?"
I shivered, and the candles scattered throughout my prison lit up. Cronus sat beside my bed, in the same chair he'd occupied every night since late December, when I'd woken up with a pounding headache and memories I wished were nightmares.
This wasn't a nightmare, though. Cronus was here, working side by side with the Queen of the Gods, who would stop at nothing to hurt me as much as she possibly could.
The baby stirred inside me, undoubtedly unhappy about its rude awakening. I didn't dare speculate over whether it was a boy or a girl. If Calliope had her way, I might never know, and that heartache was already more than I could take. I set a hand on my swollen belly, so big that the simplest movements were difficult now, and mentally tried to soothe it. "You didn't hear that?" I said hoarsely.
"My son? Of course," said Cronus, reaching for my stomach. I slapped his hand away, and he chuckled. "It seems the games are about to begin."
"What games?" I knew the answer before I'd asked the question, though. My dream, my visionit was the autumnal equinox, and finally Henry knew I was missing.
A sharp pain shot from my back to my abdomen, and I gasped. Cronus was at my side in an instant, exactly the way Henry would've been if he were here. I turned away.
"Calliope has decided it will happen today," he murmured, and his voice would have been comforting if it hadn't come from him.
"Decided what would happen today?" I struggled to stand and make it to the bathroom, but my legs gave out. Cronus's cool hands were there to steady me, but as soon as I was back on the bed, I jerked away from him.
"That your child would be born."
All the air left my lungs, and this time it had nothing to do with physical pain. He was bluffing. They were trying to scare me into labor before Henry rescued me, oror something.
But as I leaned back, my hand found a wet spot on the mattress, and my damp nightgown clung to the back of my thighs. My water had broken sometime in the night. It was really happening.
Nine months of waiting. Nine months of fear. Nine months of time being the only thing standing between Calliope and the baby I was carrying, and now it was over.
I wasn't ready to be a mother. Never in a million years had I imagined having kids before I turned thirty, let alone twenty. But Calliope hadn't given me a choice, and with each day that passed, the sick dread inside me grew thicker until it nearly choked me. Calliope would take the baby from me, and there was nothing I could do about it. In a matter of hours, I would lose my childHenry's childto someone who wanted nothing more than to see me suffer.
But now he knew. Now there was a chance, if only I could hold on a little longer until Henry came.
Cronus must have seen the look on my face, because he chuckled and fluffed a pillow for me. "Do not worry, my dear. Calliope cannot kill you unless I allow her, and I assure you I would never hurt you."
It wasn't me I was worried about. "You're not going to hurt me, but you're going to let Calliope do it," I spat. "You're going to let her take the baby the moment it's born, and I'm never going to see it again."
Cronus stared at me blankly. These were the moments I remembered that in spite of his human form, he was anything but. He didn't understand why I loved the baby so much. Or, when I'd given Calliope too much attitude and she'd hit me in the mouth, why I'd instinctively covered my belly. He didn't get how badly the thought of being separated from the baby hurt me before I'd even met him or her.
Then again, Cronus was also the monster who'd tried to destroy his own children, so I suspected empathy was too much to hope for.
"If you would like to keep the child, all you need to do is say the word," he said, as if it were that simple. Maybe to him it was. "I will ensure that Calliope does not get in the way. In return, all I ask is that you rule by my side."
It wasn't the first time he'd made that offer, and it wasn't the first time that, for a single moment, I entertained the possibility. As the baby's birth loomed, saying no grew more and more difficult.
Cronus had made no secret of the fact that he wanted me as his queen while he ruled over the entire world, destroying everyone who dared to get in his way. I had no idea whythe small bit of compassion I'd shown him in the Underworld, maybe, or because I hadn't fought him in the first warbut it didn't matter. I would be safe from the destruction, and so would the baby. Henry, however, would be the first person Cronus ripped apart, and the entire world would follow.
As much as I loved this baby, as much as I would have done anything to keep it safe, I couldn't stand by Cronus's side as he wiped out humanity. I couldn't do nothing as he killed every last person I loved, and if I agreed, he would keep me alive until the end of all things. I wouldn't have the choice to die like Persephone had, and I couldn't live with that guilt no matter how happy and safe my baby was.
But time was running out. The game had changed now that the council knew I was gone, and if I could keep Cronus guessing long enough not to hurt anyone, then maybe that would give the council a chance to find Rhea. So I lied.
"Promise not to kill anyone, and I'll think about it."
He grinned, showing off a full set of pearly teeth. Cronus had the smile of an airbrushed movie star, and it only made him more unnerving. "Is that so? Very well. Agree and I will leave humanity alone. My quarrels are not with them, and one must have subjects when one rules."
"I said anyone," I countered. "Not just humanity. You can't kill the council either."
Cronus eyed me, and I held my breath, hoping against hope I was worth this to him. I had to buy the council more time. "Surely you understand why my children must be contained, but I would be willing to consider it, depending on the nature of our relationship. On how much you are willing to give." He ran his fingers through my hair, and I suppressed a shudder. "You and I, together for all eternity. Imagine, my dear, the beauty we would create. And of course your child will know your love, and you will never have to say goodbye."
I closed my eyes and pictured the moment I finally got to hold him or her. The baby would have dark hair, I was sure of it, and light eyes like me and Henry. Pink cheeks, ten fingers, ten toes, and I would love it instantly. I already did.
"You would be a mother," he murmured, his voice like a siren's call. "Forever there to love it, to nurture it, to raise it in your image. And I would be a father."
The spell he had over me shattered, and my eyes flew open. "You are not this baby's father," I said as another wave of pain washed over me. This was too fast. Contractions were supposed to come on slow and last for hoursmy mother had been in labor for over a day when I was born.
Cronus leaned in until his lips were an inch from mine. I wrinkled my nose even though his breath smelled like a cool autumn breeze. "No, I am not. I am so much more."
The door burst open, and Calliope stormed inside. She had aged progressively over the past nine months until the angles on her face had become sharper, and she'd grown several inches to tower over me. As Cronus looked like Henry, with his long dark hair and gray eyes that crackled with lightning and fog, Calliope now looked like my mother. Like an older blond version of me. And I hated her even more for it.
"What's going on?" she said, and I managed a faint smirk. Apparently she'd overheard something she didn't like.
"Nothing for you to worry yourself about," said Cronus as he straightened, though his eyes didn't leave mine.
"Cronus was making me an interesting offer," I said, sounding braver than I felt. "Turns out he isn't going to feed me to the fish like you want."
Her lips twisted into a snarl, but before she could say a word, Ava hurried past her carrying a large basket full of blankets and other things I couldn't make out in the candlelight. "I'm sorry," she said, her face flushed.
"It's about time," snapped Calliope, and she focused on me again. "I'd be careful if I were you, Kate. I have a new toy, and I've been itching to try it out on you."
"What new toy?" I said through gritted teeth.
Calliope glided to the side of my bed. "Haven't I told you? Nicholas generously donated his time and expertise to forge a weapon that will let me kill a god. His timing couldn't be better."
My blood ran cold. Nicholas, Ava's husband, had been kidnapped on the winter solstice during battle. Up until now, no one had said a word to me about him.
"That's impossible," I blurted. Nothing but Cronus could kill an immortal.
"Is it?" said Calliope with a wicked smile. "Are you willing to bet your sweet little darling's life on that?"
My heart dropped. She was going to kill my baby? "Ava?" I said, my tongue heavy in my mouth.
Biting her lip, Ava set her basket down at the foot of the bed. "I'm sorry."
The room spun around me. This was just another game. Calliope was trying to scare me by using the people I loved most against me, and this time my supposed best friend was playing along.
What if it wasn't a game, though? Calliope had sworn she would take away the thing I loved the most, and at the time I thought she'd meant Henry and the rest of my family. But she'd meant the baby. She was about to get everything she wanted from methere was no reason for her to lie. And the way Ava couldn't so much as look at me
My throat swelled until I could barely breathe. "Get out."
Ava blinked. "But someone needs to be with you"
"I'd rather have Calliope here than you, you traitorous bitch," I spat. "Get out."
Her eyes watered, and to my satisfaction, she fled, leaving me alone with Cronus and Calliope. Ava deserved this. She'd known what this would mean, that Calliope had every intention of slaughtering my baby. And if Calliope really had forced Nicholas to forge a weaponif Ava had distracted the council for the past nine months to give him enough time
I didn't care how much danger Nicholas was in. He was Calliope's son, and no matter how terrible a person she was, I couldn't imagine her killing her own child. But she was going to kill my baby without a second thought, and Ava had known the entire time.
Even if our positions had been reversed, even if Henry was the one Calliope held hostage, I would have never, ever done this to Ava. I would have never betrayed her and allowed Calliope to kill her child.
"That wasn't very nice," said Calliope in a singsong voice, and my stomach churned. She couldn't kill the baby. I wouldn't let her.
"I need to pee," I said, pushing myself up.
Calliope made a vague gesture and busied herself with unpacking the basket. Cronus offered me his hand, but I brushed it off.
"I think I can make it to the bathroom on my own," I said.
Crossing the room hadn't been easy since August, and my body strained with each step I took, but I made it. My prison wasn't exactly plush, although it wasn't a concrete cell with a thin mattress and grungy toilet either. It was a simple bedroom with a bathroom attached, and it was several stories up, making a window escape impossible. I might've been immortal, but I didn't have a clue whether or not the baby was. And if Calliope really did have a weapon that could kill a god, it didn't matter anyway.
I'd tried to get away several times when I'd still been mobile enough to have a chance, but between Cronus, Calliope and Ava, someone had always been there to stop me. I'd made it as far as the beach once, but I couldn't swim and they knew it. The council may have intended this island to be Cronus's prison, but it was mine now, too.
Closing the door behind me, I eased down onto the edge of the bathtub and cradled my head in my hands. Frustration rose inside me, threatening to spill out in a great sob, but I swallowed it. I needed a moment, and crying would only make Calliope come in after me.
"Henry." I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to picture him. "Please. Help us."
At last I sank into my vision. After nearly a year in this hellhole, I'd learned how to control them, but I still struggled to make it far enough to see him. Three golden walls formed around me, and the fourth became a long pane of windows much like the room in Henry's palace. But instead of black rock, I saw endless blue sky through the glass, and sunlight poured in, illuminating everything.
"You did this." The sound of Henry's voice caught my attention, and I turned. He had Walter by the lapels, and his eyes burned with anger and power I'd never seen before.
"It had to be done," said Walter unsteadily. Even he looked afraid. "We need you, brother, and if this is what it takes to get you to see that"
Henry threw Walter against the wall so hard that it fractured, leaving a web of cracks behind. "I will see you pay for this if it is the last thing I do," he growled.
"Enough." My mother's voice rang out, and both brothers turned toward her. She looked pale, and she folded her hands in front of her the way she did when she was trying to keep herself under control. "We will rescue Kate. There is still time, and the more we waste"
"We cannot risk our efforts for the life of one," said Walter.
"Then I will," snarled Henry.
Walter shook his head. "It is far too dangerous for you to go alone."
"He won't be alone," said my mother. "And if you value your hold over the council"
The muscles in my back and belly contracted, and the pain pulled me from my vision. Back in the bathroom, I let out a soft sob. My mother was wrongwe were out of time. The baby was coming no matter how hard I tried to wait. Calliope would kill it, and there was no one here to stop her. Whether or not anyone came, there was no way out of this. Even if Henry and my mother did attack the island, there was no guarantee they would break through Cronus's defenses, and by then it would be too late anyway.