“What the fuck, man? Chicks are delivered to your doorstep now? Don’t know whether to be proud or shocked,” Sei whispers behind me.
I turn to see Irine elbow him in the stomach. Heh, he’s met his match in this one.
Sei lets out an oof and reaches past her, to shut the door. “Shocked,” he says more loudly. “Definitely shocked.”
I force out a chuckle and shake my head. The drenched woman who just stepped into my bar may be my target group—female, between twenty and sixty—but I’m not looking to fuck her. Not now, not ever. And not because she currently resembles a drowned rat. I do hope to have her dry and on her merry way as soon as possible, hopefully never to return again.
Irine crosses her arms over her chest and glowers at me. “Can you please tell me why we had to sneak in here? Did you sleep with the girl and never call?”
“We didn’t have to do anything,” I say. “I asked Sei to help me.”
“Help you carry something. Sure. Because there’s something in here that you can’t lift by yourself. What gives?” She arches an eyebrow.
I’m not saying her glare scares me, but she can be an intimidating lady.
Silver glimmers in her normally hazel irises. It’s the same silver that shows up in my eyes or those of my brothers, when our powers are near the surface or we’re… stimulated. Irine’s irises have been doing it more and more lately.
Sei drops onto the cot, strategically placed here so none of my numerous one-night stands find out I have an apartment right upstairs, and pulls Irine into his lap.
Lucky for them, I changed sheets this morning.
“What’s wrong?” Sei asks. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Kinda. “That chick out there? That’s”—I force her name past the knot clogging my throat—“Moira Karystinou.” She’s curvier than she was in the pictures C gave me of her when she turned eighteen, and the highlights in her chestnut hair are now a soft, honey-toned blond instead of the bright red she used to sport, but there’s no doubt it’s her.
The woman who’ll end my life as I know it and bring forth my ascension.
Well, she won’t if I don’t let her.
Sei is the only one of my brothers to know her by name, but judging by his blank expression, he hasn’t made the connection.
“My… to be.” I can’t bring myself to say soulmate. I pace from one side of the nine-square-meter room to the other, raking my fingers through my hair. How can a woman that means nothing to me have me so frazzled?
It’s not her. It’s the baggage she comes with. Baggage I won’t be laying claim to.
Irine guffaws and springs upright, to stand in my way, beaming up at me. “What are you doing in here, then? Your destiny has found you. Literally.”
Ha ha. “Hilarious.” Yes, Moira means destiny. Let’s not go reading into things, though.
Sei materializes on my other side. Fucking Olympian powers. He clasps my shoulder and gives me a shake that’d make my teeth rattle if I weren’t as big as he is. “Go get your woman. She’ll be worth it. Trust me.”
Just because he’s found the perfect relationship with his mate doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen for me too. Besides, I like being human. I like not being bound to a single female for eternity. And I like making my own destiny, damn it. All of which are valid reasons not to bond, even if they’re not my main issue.
I shake off his hold and lean against the wall. “I’m not going out there. I’ll wait till she leaves.”
“If you’re so sure you don’t want to be with her, why do you need to hide? Surely you can spend ten minutes in her presence without falling in love?” Irine’s gaze holds a challenge, and I’m not the sort of male to walk away from one of those.
I can do ten fucking minutes in the same room as Moira. Once she’s gone, I never have to see her again.
Just ten freaking minutes, and then I can go back to pretending I’m fully human.
“Let me think about it, okay?” And maybe Moira will change clothes and leave in the meantime.
For what feels like an eternity, we remain motionless. My fingers twitch at the smirk on Sei’s lips.
Can’t look at his stupid face any longer. I spin toward the door and throw it open hard enough to bang against the wall.
Moira is sitting on another barstool than she was on when I left, her curves now camouflaged and her moist hair a knot at the base of her skull. Ares is leaning on the bar beside her. Too close. Too casual. They’re whispering. Is he hitting on her?
Why does the thought make my pulse thrum in my temples?
When they don’t acknowledge us despite the noise the door made, I clear my throat. They both turn toward us, their matching grins unnerving.
“Guess what?” Ares asks.
My stomach tightens. I’m not going to like what he says next.
He rolls his eyes. “Can you at least pretend you’re curious?”
“I’m curious,” I say. Worried is a better word.
His grin stretches wider, lighting up his eyes. “I found you a new barmaid.”
No. He doesn’t mean Moira. He can’t mean her. Someone else came, applied, was hired, and left in the time I spent in the back with Sei and Irine.
It would make as much sense as Ares’ hiring a woman he talked to for all of thirty seconds. To work in my bar.
Moira nods vigorously.
I should keep my gaze on her face, but it slides down, to the long legs peeking beneath my bulky hoodie. Her skin glows with health and the remnants of a tan, and her high cheekbones accentuate the most gorgeous smile. Chaos, those lips can drive a man insane. And her eyes… Hazel eyes are so common, but the specs of light amber in her irises make them seem luminescent.
A man could fall in love with those eyes.
“I promise to be so good, you won’t be able to make it a day without me,” she says.
Did I groan out loud?
“Say something.” Sei’s voice is in my head.
“Who… Why… You don’t get a say on who works here.” I force a glare on Ares, trying to ignore Moira’s crestfallen expression.
The asshole is cool as a cucumber. He gives the most bored little shrug. “You’ve been bitching at me since Argyro quit. I fixed it. Now get me a beer.”
I wanna throw one, straight at his useless head. He won’t see it coming, since I’m not an enemy. That loophole always works for Hephaestus.
“I can do it.” There’s a hint of pleading in Moira’s voice. “And I need the job. My boss just fired me because I wouldn’t… Because I said no.”
Anger, raw and potent and blinding, expands in my chest, blocking out my breath. “Did he force himself on you?” I barely recognize the growl that crawls up my throat. I despise any sort of violence against women. This has nothing to do with who Moira is to me.
Ares’ mouth drops open. He’s used to mellow-Denny. Everyone is. One more reason not to ascend. They don’t understand what I’ll be capable of, once I do. What I did before. They’ve read the stories, but I know the truth. I’m the one with the nightmares.
“He tried. I kneed him in the balls.” Moira sounds casual, like getting sexually assaulted by her boss was no big deal.
I hear the tremble in her voice, though, and I want to rip that guy’s spine out.
She doesn’t let me linger on the subject. “Do I get the job?” she asks.
“I should interview you too.” I should flat out turn her down, but she needs to finish her drink anyway. And maybe to feel warm and comfortable and safe.
“Can you dry her stuff?” I ask in Sei’s head.
“Easy,” he replies the same way. A heartbeat later, he sends me, “Done.” He sounds smug, and why wouldn’t he be? He didn’t even have to move, to suck the water out of her clothes and shoes.
“We’re done.” Hades’ voice makes me snap my head toward the front door.
The delivery guy looks at Moira. “Need a ride, hon?”
He seems nice and friendly, but I’m not sending her off with a stranger. “She’s staying a little longer,” I say before she can answer.
The guy bids us goodnight and leaves.
Hades and Hephaestus watch me from beside a neat stack of crates.
I stare back until they drop their gazes and start moving the boxes to the kitchen.
Sei says, “We should go.”
I throw a glance over my shoulder, to see Irine smirking, her arm looped through his. “Yeah. You need some peace and quiet, to interview Moira.” She bats her eyelashes at me.
“I… You know me?” Moira asks.
Can’t they all stand on one side of the room? If I keep whipping my head around, I’ll sprain my neck.
“I told them your name.” Ares pushes from the bar. “That’s Irine, by the way. Big lug beside her is Sei, and of course, this is your new boss. Dionysos.”
“Denny,” I correct instinctively.
“I like Dionysos better.” Moira hops from the stool and comes closer, hand raised.
I clasp it, and her palm disappears in mine. Her grip is firm, but her hand is frozen. “We need to get you warmed up,” I say, breaking contact. Wouldn’t do, to touch her for too long, and I don’t know how long too long is, when it comes to my soulmate.
“That’s the spirit.” Irine shoulders past me and shakes Moira’s hand too. “Welcome aboard.”
Sei follows, and then Hades and Hephaestus, who’ve left most of the crates by the door. They’re all super friendly with her. Not that they’re usually ogres—okay, maybe they are—but this is extra friendly. Sei must have let them in on who she is.
Which would explain why they all scurry out the door, leaving us alone.
“I’ll make a fire.” I point to the fireplace in the corner, normally unused till at least mid-December. “Come tell me a little bit about yourself, while we thaw you out.”
“I do feel like frozen goods.” Her laugh is… bright. The sound of sunbeams, bouncing off the still surface of a lake.
Dude, am I coming down with a bout of synesthesia or something?
She sits by the fireplace, and I build a decent fire, before sinking into an armchair across the table from her. I need the barrier, because my fingers are itching to touch her, and my touch comes with a side-effect that would make this situation even more fucked up.
Before his ascend, Sei could sway people’s minds. Before Hermes bonded with Joy, he had enhanced senses and a super-speed I envied. My pre-ascension power is bringing down blockages to someone’s innermost wishes—wishes they might normally never act upon. I touch a woman, and her hang-ups dissolve. I can’t use my power to make someone desire me. Wouldn’t, even if I could. But if they already do, and I caress their knuckles a couple times, their inhibitions melt away.
You could say I have a knack for unveiling desires. And if I unwittingly unveil Moira’s desire for me, resisting her will be near impossible.
The precaution is probably not necessary. She just escaped a creep who wanted to leverage his status to coerce her into sleeping with him. She’s not thinking sex.
I steeple my fingers and ask, “What did you do before?”
She grimaces. “My last job was with an advertising agency. I was Key Accounts Manager.”
I did not see that coming. “Why would you wanna go from that to tending bar?”
She licks her lips, and I zoom in on the tip of her tongue. It looks like a strawberry, red and juicy and begging for me to taste it.
No creeping out on the hot soulmate.
“I won’t lie to you; I don’t see me sticking around for more than a year. But I do need that year to clear my head and plan my next steps. And I’m not going to up and leave without notice. If I find something else, I’ll give you ample time to find my replacement, and I’ll train them myself.”
Not even hired yet, and she’s planning to leave. Which shouldn’t bother me. Shouldn’t make my jaw tighten and my shoulders bunch up.
“Petros”—she clears her throat—“the asshole, who… Anyway, he said he’ll make sure I never work in advertising again. In a year, nobody will remember he blacklisted me. I hope.” There’s that dazzling smile again. I bet she tastes like the sun, too.
Snap out of it. I pinch my inner thigh, to keep my dick from getting any harder. Doesn’t work. Pain can be delicious. Especially when I dole it out with my palm, on round, supple flesh.
“And you have bartending experience?” I ask through gritted teeth.
She leans closer, elbows on the table and cheeks in her palms. “Ares said to tell you I do, but honestly, I’ve done it at parties, during college. I have a great palate for making original cocktails—which I know you don’t do here—and I know all the classics. You can try me, if you want.”
Bet she doesn’t mean try bending her over the table and palming her asscheeks. “Nah, that’s okay.” And I sound almost nonchalant.
Maybe I should hire her. I’ve always kept my hands off my staff, after all. And I’ll know where she is at all times. I’ll get used to her charm, and it’ll be easier not to think of her as a potential bedmate. Makes sense, right?