Love and War Out of Context Sneak Peek

love-and-war

ARES’S LIPS BURNED against mine as the door swung shut behind us. The heat of his hands seared my back, but I couldn’t bring myself to mind. After what felt like an eternity that didn’t last nearly long enough, he pulled away. “What were we supposed to be doing again?”

I laughed. “There’s a basement.”

He blinked. “Right. Yeah . . . that could be important.” But his body leaned toward mine, and he planted a hand on the wall beside my head.

“If we’re lucky.” I ducked under his arm.

It took us longer than I anticipated to find the stairs. Hopefully, if anyone noticed our absence from the party, they’d assume we headed home or found a quiet corner somewhere. The whole charade was probably unnecessary, but better safe than sorry.

When Ares turned on the light in the basement, my heart sank in my chest. The room was tiny. My guess was this corner of the building allowed for deeper digging than the rest of the dining hall, so the resort made use of the space for storage.

“Look for shields,” Ares reminded me as we explored the small room.

Ares went left, and I went right. I ran my hand along the wall and kept my eyes locked above, looking for any places where the walls and the ceiling didn’t match up. When I met Ares in the middle, I scowled. “Nothing.”

“Still, this may be where they keep the weapons. Check the boxes.”

But our search revealed nothing but paper products, non-perishables, and other innocuous supplies stacked on open-backed, plastic shelving.

“Okay.” Ares took a regretful look around. “We should—”

Footsteps overhead sent us scrambling deeper into the storage room.

“Here,” Ares grunted, pushing one of the shelves forward just enough to make room for us.

“Light,” I whispered harshly, shoving the boxes around to make sure they’d conceal us.

Ares swore, and darted out long enough to tug on the thin, white string hanging from the low ceiling. Then he squeezed in beside me just as the door opened.

“Bring ’em down here!” someone yelled, thuds sounding on the steps. The light flickered on, and the footsteps receded back upstairs and moved above us down the hall.

“Get down,” Ares whispered, yanking me down beside him.

My knees scraped against the plastic shelving when I sat down. Ares reached forward to yank the boxes on the shelf back far enough to touch the wall. In a matter of seconds, he’d completely hemmed us in. The wall stood behind us, the shelf in front, and boxes occupied the space between, beside and above us. I swallowed hard, struggling to keep my breathing even.

Footsteps slapped against the stairs. Peering through the space between boxes, I saw two members of the kitchen staff carrying packages.

“Just stack them over there,” the one closest to the stairwell said.

Crap. They were bringing down more things from the delivery now that it was getting late enough to close up. Who knew how long it would take? More footsteps echoed through the small space as other people filed into the room, stacking more packages against the far wall, mere feet from where we sat huddled behind the shelf.

Tightness gripped my chest in an inescapable vise. Not now, I begged. But knowing this was the worst possible time to have a panic attack didn’t help me not panic.

I went rigid, squeezing my eyes shut as I fought to breathe, slowly, quietly. Ares’s arm snaked behind me, pulling me to him until I was practically in his armpit. He took an exaggerated breath that I felt through his shirt.

I tried to follow his lead, clinging to him so I could feel the pace he set, but all I could think about was that I couldn’t do this. Not right now! If I breathed too loudly, if they heard me, if they caught us, they’d report it to Jason. And then they’d ask us questions, questions we couldn’t answer. And then the non-answers to those questions would make them look back on all the gaps and half-truths. Then they’d know. They’d know we were gods, and they had Steele, and they’d kill us. Once we were dead, Persephone would never be able to broker a truce, and she’d never get Hades back, and Poseidon would sink the island, and everyone would die. All because I couldn’t catch my breath!

I sealed my lips. My cheeks puffed out with unspent air, my lungs ached, and my heart pounded as everything in my body begged me to breathe.

It’s only been seconds, I reminded myself, pressing my back against the cool cinderblock wall. I can hold my breath for a few seconds. Facts clicked into my mind, unasked. The average healthy human could hold their breath for two minutes. In a pool, relaxed. In panic situations, however, the average was thirty seconds.

Thirty seconds wasn’t long enough! If I tried to take a breath, I wouldn’t be able to control it. I’d gasp and wheeze and give us away.

Ares must have felt me go still, because he shifted. His finger tapped against my palm one-two-three times, then he squeezed my hand.

Letting out my breath, I drew in another, then held it. Ares resumed tapping my palm. When he squeezed my hand this time, I was ready. I exhaled, then inhaled, and held my breath. I lost track of how many times we repeated the drill before Ares squeezed my hand, moved it to his chest, and took a measured breath. This time, I was able to follow suit.

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