I sit upright, tense like a coiled spring, heart galloping in my chest.
At least I woke up before I had to physically restrain Ariadne.
I know they call him a hero, but he was a manipulating bastard.
A buzzing pierces my skull. My head feels heavy, like I expect a hangover would feel like, though I only had an alcohol-free beer before going to bed. Oh, and also, alcohol doesn’t affect me. Because of the immortal genes. Unless wanking off a couple dozen times during the night has the same effect on Olympians as booze does on mortals.
The buzzing comes again. It’s the downstairs door. I begrudgingly drag my feet to the intercom and thumb the Speak key. “Who?”
“Um… Did I wake you? Should I come back later? Shit, I need to— I guess I can talk to Sofia and reschedule.”
Moira. Babbling. Fucking adorable. “You have my keys,” I say. “Come right up. Let yourself in. Need to hit the shower.” Am I good with excuses or what? Now I won’t have to explain why I can’t unlock my front door to let her in.
I pad across the open-floor space to the bathroom that was this studio’s selling point. About as large as the bedroom area, it is lined with black marble and boasts a sunken bathtub. Which I’d love to share with Moira.
I’ve never shared my tub with a woman; I won’t start now. And there’s no time for a bath anyway. Not that I need to shower again. I turn on the water, and let it run while I brush my teeth and put on body spray.
Done. Except I didn’t think to bring any clothes in with me. Chaos, now I need to go out there wrapped in a towel.
I eye the one hanging by the sink. Too short. Tempting, but that’s a no. I wrap the bath towel around my waist and walk outside, to meet my destiny.
Moira is standing in the middle of my living space, cardboard tray with two steaming paper cups in one hand, plastic bag hanging from the other. Her eyes all but bulge out of her head while she skates her gaze down my body. She swallows hard enough it’s audible, and then snaps her gaze back up, to meet mine.
“Coffee. I brought.” She clears her throat. “I brought coffee. And something to eat.” She tilts her head toward the kitchen counter. “And I left your keys over there.” She looks from the pillows strewn around my coffee table to the king-size bed taking up roughly a third of the studio apartment. “You don’t have chairs.”
Her frazzled expression makes me smile.
“Why don’t you have any chairs? How do you live without chairs?” A frown line appears between her brows. “Who doesn’t have chairs?”
“People who prefer doing things standing up or lying down.” I flash her my most beguiling smirk before I think to tone it down.
Moira bites her bottom lip. It looks like she’s suppressing a smile, but I may have overdone it with the charm.
I try again. “People who either grab a bite by the kitchen sink or have most meals at the bar they own?”
She nods. “A decidedly less cheesy explanation.” She holds up the cardboard and gives the plastic bag a tiny little shake. “So where are we having these?”
She’s not just here to deliver breakfast; she’s here to have it with me. I’ve never had breakfast with a woman I didn’t sleep with. Or with a woman I did sleep with.
Wait—I don’t sleep with women. I give them the best sex of their lives, before putting them in a cab and sending them off with my much-practiced speech about how we should never see each other again because I might fall for them and I’m not the kind of man to be loyal to just one woman.
I point at the coffee table. “The cushions are more comfortable than they look. If you have your heart set on using chairs, we need to go downstairs.”
She makes no move to approach the table. Just stands there, staring at me.
“What?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, for the love of God, will you put some clothes on?”
Fuck. Forgot I’m practically naked. “Sorry,” I mumble. “I’m not used to wearing clothes around the apartment.” Am I sexually harassing her? After what her last employer did?
“Oh don’t apologize for that.” Moira looks at my torso, licking her lips. With a sharp inhale, she averts her gaze, drops the plastic bag onto the coffee table, lays the cardboard with the coffee cups beside it, and sinks down on a cushion. She slips her tote down her arm, places it by the table, and makes a show of squeezing her eyes shut, before covering them with her palms. “Hurry up. Coffee is getting cold.”
I don’t know if she peeks through her fingers as I give her my back, but since she doesn’t seem harassed, I take the time to flex—arms and buttocks—while I unwrap the towel and pull on a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt. I join her at the table, sit cross-legged opposite her, and tap my fingers on the glass surface between us. “All done.”
She uncovers her eyes and blows a curl off her forehead. “I didn’t know if you wanted sweet of savory, so I got both.”
“Well, I prefer spicy”—and I can’t stop with the innuendos, damn it—“but I like a good assortment. Thank you.” I point between the two paper cups. “Which one’s mine?”
“They’re the same,” she says, around a mouthful of ham-and-cheese croissant. A flake sticks to the left corner of her lips, and she flicks out her tongue to capture it.
The pink tip drives me crazy with lustful thoughts I haven’t even had while watching porn. She’s only freaking eating, for Chaos’ sake, and my cock is as stiff as if she ran that tongue up its length.
I shift my position a bit, so it’s not too obvious—though it’s not exactly easy to hide, if you catch my drift—and try the coffee closest to me. “Perfect.” I may be talking about her. “How did you sleep last night?”
She leaves her pastry on a napkin she pulls out of the bakery bag, shrugs one shoulder, and tucks loose curls behind both ears. “I had a weird dream.” She arches dark eyebrows. “I think someone was chasing me. With a boat? And then my… boyfriend ditched me on an island.” Her expression darkens, sadness filling her eyes.
Silver peeks out from the hazel once more, but it doesn’t intrigue me; it scares me.
“Your boyfriend?” My voice comes out lower, hoarser, than I was going for.
Moira shakes her head. “I don’t have one. And I’ve never seen dream-boyfriend before in my life. In the dream, though, I loved him.”
“What was his name?”
She gulps down some of her cappuccino, places the cup back on the table, and twirls it slowly. “Umm… Same as that ancient hero’s? Not Heracles—the other guy?”
The terrifying certainty that claws at my gut doesn’t need a name. Moira dreamed of Theseus, the man who magically coerced Ariadne into helping him kill first her half-brother and then her father. The one who bespelled her to forget all that. Until she met me.
Why do I remember that time? It’s not fair to me or to Moira, who is obviously tapping into my subconscious through the mental link soulmates share even before bonding. The memory of what my powers did to Ariadne rips me up inside. Whenever I try to recall anything past her trying to end her life, a spike of pain pierces my head. According to Greek mythology, we lived together happily, but how could we? She was in love with Theseus, and my powers drove her to madness.
“Theseus,” she says and sits back. “Boyfriend’s name was Theseus. And we were dressed like we were in Ancient Greece. Must be all the Olympios names. They are bringing my inner mythology-geek to the surface.” She’s smiling now, and all feels well in the world again.
I bite into my savory pastry, and let the rich creaminess of béchamel combine with the warmth of that smile, to sweep away the memories of old.
And I really need to stop waxing poetic when it comes to Moira, or my resolve may weaken. “Yeah, the man who adopted us is really into mythology.” More than she’d understand without knowing the truth about my brothers and me.
She tears a chunk off her croissant and tosses it into her mouth. Chews, swallows, and wipes her mouth daintily, as if I haven’t seen her devour a burger in a few heartbeats. “How come he decided on your names? Were you all adopted as babies? Or did he rename you? That must have been tough on older kids. Didn’t your birthparents parents have a say in it?” She clamps her mouth shut and shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I’m usually more discrete when prying into other people’s lives.”
I can’t help but laugh. “I like your nosiness. And your nose.” And so many more things about her, but flirting is a no-no, damn it.
“I can touch it with my tongue.” And—dear Tartaros—she proceeds to prove it.
My shock and awe must show in my expression, because she sucks her tongue back in, cheeks flaming red, and ducks her head, focused solely on finishing her croissant.
I almost sprain my brain, seeking something to talk about that will make her forget my googly eyes.
Wait. She asked a question I haven’t answered. Yes. “The man who adopted us is old enough to be our grandpa.” Not true. We don’t know how old he is, but except for the hair, he doesn’t look like a grandpa. “He never asked us to call him Dad, and we never did. As for our names…” I suck in a deep breath and give her the story I’ve always given people. “C is a mythology buff. He wasn’t looking to adopt kids with these names, but after he adopted Sei and Ares, he renamed the rest as we came along.”
Moira’s gaze softens. “He changed your names so he’d get matching set? That sounds…” She rubs her cheek. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know what I was about to say.”
Nothing positive about C, obviously, and I can’t blame her. I owe the man my life, and I love him like a grandpa. He raised us. But I know there are things he hasn’t told us. Like, how he knew where to find each of us, or why our birthparents named us the way they did. Or what happened to some of them.
The one time I asked why he saved me from the crash that took my birthmother and father, but left them to burn, he said it was too late for them. I was only four years old, and he didn’t want me to watch them die, so he whisked me away. I’d like to think that they wouldn’t have abandoned me, if they had a choice. Not like Ares’ folks did, and in New-fucking-York, of all places. They could have at least ditched him in Greece, where he spoke the language and might have people to take care of him. Where C could have found him sooner.
Moira’s hand on mine snaps me out of my thoughts, and I recoil as if she stabbed me. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “I didn’t mean to bring up unpleasant memories.”
“Nah, it’s okay. C raised us well. He’s always cared for us. Made sure we knew our worth and wanted us to meet our potential. I let him down”—when I refused to ascend—“but he never withdrew his support.” Which makes me unwilling to accept Sei and Hermes’ theory that C’s hiding serious stuff from us for his own gain. To be clear, it’s the latter part I’m doubting.
This smile is less blinding. More timid. “Good. You deserve all the good things.”
The platitude makes me irrationally upset. “You can’t say that. You don’t even know me.”
She closes both palms around her cup and looks into the remnants of her coffee. “I know you took in a stray last night. You fed me, kept me warm, and offered me a place for the night. I will always be grateful to you for that.”
And that’s why I’ll never make a pass at her. Because to do so would be to betray her trust and show her I really am a selfish asshole. And I can’t live with that.