Joy’s eyes are incredibly green. Yes, I’m aware that sounds stupid—green is green and doesn’t have a scale—but they’re the green of emeralds, and just as brilliant.
I can’t stop looking at them.
Can she tell, from across the room? She must. I’ve been gravitating toward her all night. Listening for her lilting voice. Trying to count her freckles through the layer of makeup she should never hide them under. Inhaling the dizzying aroma of her shower gel over the smells of food and people in the dining hall. Needing to be near her.
This is such an odd feeling. Joy’s not the flavor of the night; she’s something more solid. More present.
She’s throwing me off balance.
Usual deal is I hone in on a female, court them, let them come to me—or us, if Denny is sharing. I don’t buzz around them like a bee over a flower. I don’t hover. And I certainly don’t growl because another male stood too close to them.
But I tasted her discomfort on the back of my tongue when Thanasis cornered her against the buffet. Barely held back from crossing the room and punching the guy’s lights out, but he stepped back on his own. Because he’s probably a decent guy, and I’m devolving into a brute instead of ascending into a god.
For Joy. I’m losing myself in her.
Is this why C sent me here? Is she The One? If she is, why didn’t he say so?
The fleeting image of a little girl with her eyes but dirty-blond hair instead of red flashes through my mind. What the fuck? Am I imagining our kid? I shoo away the thoughts, but my heart skips faster. I’ve always sought out my destiny, but am I ready for it? More importantly, am I ready for the possibility that Joy’s nothing more than a tasty morsel to temporarily slate my craving?
The roomful of authors clap and woot, and I focus on the here and now. Kalliroe is tugging at my arm. I give a short bow to the crowd, bringing on another round of cheers.
Yup, I’m gorgeous. Applaud me.
The few males attending shake their heads with amused expressions, while the women watch me with hungry eyes.
Well, not all of them. There’s no hunger in Joy’s gaze. What shines in her gorgeous green eyes looks more like hope and wistfulness.
Thanasis digs into the rolled-up pieces of paper filling the bowl and fishes one out. He holds it high in the air, as his aunt steadies the mic in front of his face.
Let the winner be Joy. There’s no one else in here I’d rather spend time with, even if that time leads to nothing more than a long night of pleasure.
Let it be Joy.
Am I still thinking about the contest?
Thanasis starts unrolling the paper, and the thought becomes a chant in my head. Let it be Joy. Let it be Joy. Let it be Joy.
The rise and fall of her chest with every breath presses the pale flesh of her breasts against her neckline. It’s mesmerizing. I want to close my palms over those breasts. Feel the smoothness of her skin against my fingertips. See goosebumps break across the exposed surface. She licks a drop of chocolate off her upper lip, and I clench my law to keep from groaning.
Let it be Joy.
“And the winner is”—Thanasis pauses for dramatic effect—“Joy Moore.”
Only, it’s not. From where I’m standing, I clearly read the name Melody Notes. Did he cheat for Joy?
Wait. Did I compel him? How the fuck did I manage that? Sei would be so proud.
I’ve never compelled a human before. It’s possible my morals wouldn’t allow me to try hard enough, since I’m a firm believer in free will. Which is why this odd feeling of triumph sours in my stomach. Did I actually force a mortal to lie, or did I make him see what I wanted him to? Either way, I tampered with his mind, but which option would be worse?
Can’t decide that right now, because Joy’s dazzling smile steals away my reason.
I zoom in on her heartbeat and hear it strum a staccato. I lean closer to the mic and say, “Congrats.” I grab the bottle of champagne from the chill bucket and stride down from the stage, as Joy’s dinner mates urge her to stand. The smiling lines at the corners of her eyes fade when I close my hand around her wrist and pull her toward the doors that lead outside, instead of toward the stage.
“We’re going to talk about the cover,” I announce to the room and tangle my fingers through hers.
When I tug on her hand again, she lets me lead her away from her table and out the door, to the terrace overlooking the beach. Her heart is galloping, but I scent no fear. Only excitement, and an arousal that makes my head spin. I could press her against the nearest wall and be buried inside her in seconds. No more waiting to feel her heavenly body closing around me.
But if she’s not to be mine for life, I’ll see she’s wrong as soon as I enter her. I’ll know her darkness. Will I be able to push aside that knowledge? Will I want to? What if she’s a racist or drowns kittens for fun?
One time may be all we have. And I need to make it last.
This doesn’t make sense.
The voice in my head sounds so tiny, I barely pay it any heed as I steer Joy down the steps leading from the terrace onto the cool sand.
“My heels,” she says. “Can’t—”
I let go of her hand, to wrap my arm around her waist and lift her against my side.
She squeals and bats at my arm. “I meant, wait for me to take my shoes off,” she says.
Oh. I help her find her footing and hold her steady as she removes one heeled sandal, then the other. Shoes in one hand, she loops the other arm around mine. The side of her breast brushes my bicep with every step we take across the beach to the front row of sunbeds. The loose fabric draping down my front, cinched around my waist by the curtain rope Kalliroe used as a belt for my outfit, doesn’t restrain my hard-on. Perhaps I should have worn underwear, but I was going for a more authentic look. Which now includes a tent at my groin.
I park my ass onto the nearest sunbed. Joy drops her shoes to the sand and goes for the next one over, but I pat the space beside me, for her to join me. When she lowers her body toward me, I clasp her hips and pull her sideways into my lap. Her squeal this time is less indignant and more gleeful. Can she tell how hard I am for her?
Her proximity chips at my defenses. I meant to woo her, for Chaos’ sake, but my body demands I take her now. My cock is pressed between our bodies. No way she can’t feel it against her thigh.
Down boy. The voice in my head sounds just like Joy, and has the opposite effect to cooling me down.
“Tell me about your book,” I whisper, letting my lips caress the shell of her ear. Maybe talking about fictional characters’ sex lives will help me forget how much I need to fuck her.
She draws away to give me a startled look. “Really? You want to talk about my book? Now?”
“I do.” I want to know everything about her, and what better way than by being introduced to the creations of her imagination?
Joy traps one fleshy lip between her perfect, white teeth. When she speaks, a hint of disappointment tints her voice. “I thought you wanted… You know… Because you brought me out here…” She buries her face in the crook of my neck, her cheeks radiating heat. “Kiss me. Don’t let me keep talking.”
“Your wish is my command.” I dig my fingers in her hair, pull out the elastic holding it up, and fist my hand in her silky tresses. Using my grip on her hair, I turn her toward me again. Only a hairbreadth separates our lips. I smell the wine she had. Maybe a hint of garlic, too? She could have eaten a head of garlic, and it wouldn’t stop me from pressing my lips to hers.
Zeus’ lightning bolt couldn’t jolt me as hard as the moan she lets out does. That tiny sound in the back of her throat snaps my flimsy self-control, but I’m not the only who wants more. Joy opens up for me. Sucks my tongue. Bites my lips. I thought she wasn’t hungry for me before, but I was obviously wrong. She acts ravenous.
When I nibble a line from her mouth to the spot beneath her ear, she digs her nails into my bare shoulder.
“More. I want more.” Her words bounce around my head, and I want to give her all she asks for.
I find the hem of her dress. Lift it to close my hand over her calf, and skate my palm all the way up to her soft thigh.
Joy groans and stands.
I drop my hand. Did I go too far?
“Dress. Stupid idea. Too long,” she mumbles as she bunches the skirt up above her knees. She crawls into my lap again, her legs folded around my hips this time, the heat of her core scorching me through two layers of fabric.
If I lift my chlamys and push aside her panties, I can be inside her.
No. No quick fuck on the beach for my Joy. I’ll take her on a large, soft bed, bathed in the glow of a thousand candles.
My resolve wavers when she pumps her hips, rubbing against my cock, but I hold firm. Literally. I claim her lips again. Map her mouth. Memorize her scent—her Joy scent, flowery but not too sweet. My hands cup her ass as if they have a mind of their own. I squeeze and knead, pressing her to me while she dry-humps me.
If we don’t stop this, I’ll come all over myself like a hormonal teenager.
She hums into my mouth, and it sends fire through my veins.
I will stop, but first… I glide a hand up her side, to cup one of the lovely breasts haunting me since this morning. I squeeze, pulling a mewling sound from her lips. What a lovely, primal sound. I squeeze her breast again. Pinch the hardened nipple between my thumb and forefinger. Her dress and bra are in the way of what has become my target. She might not like me tearing them off her—though from how she rubs her pussy against me, she might not mind—so I pop the buttons at the front of her dress and edge my fingers under the lace of her bra to lift one perfect, heavy breast out of the cup. The street lamps are too far away to provide any light, and her nipple seems dark, but I bet it’s the same rosy pink as her lips. And when I close my mouth around it, it tastes like heaven.
I graze it with my teeth and suck, and Joy moans again. Digs her fingers in my shoulders. Pumps her hips faster. Spreads her legs wider when I push my other hand under the skirt of her dress, to cup her thigh.
As I shift higher, so my thumb ghosts over the seam of her underwear, she stills. Creation, she’s so wet. I could slip my thumb beneath the lace and find her clit. Make her come apart on top of me. But that’s not why I said I brought her here.
I withdraw my hand and lift my head. Hold her gaze while I cover her breast and button up her dress. “Your book,” I say. “Tell me what it’s about.”
Joy huffs a surprised laugh. “Seriously?”
I nod and shift so I lie down with her on top of me.
“You make talking difficult.” She runs her fingertips down my jaw, then lays her head on my chest. “Okay. So Periandros is a vampire. He’s ancient and hasn’t been in love since his human days. One night, as he passes an alley, he sees and stops a would-be rape, and the victim is so grateful, she insists she give him tickets to a super-exclusive ballet show she’s doing media promo for.”
“So she’s like, yay, you saved me, here are two tickets?” I tease her.
She tickles my side, and I’m manly enough to admit I giggle. “More like, Let me do something to pay you back. He says, there’s no need. She says, Let me do something. Do you like ballet? I know this show is sold out.”
“Okay. That may work, I guess.”
Joy lifts her head to glare at me. “It’s the author’s skill that makes things work.”
I caress her hair until she gets comfortable again. “And you’re a good author,” I say. “So is she the one with the milky-white neck?”
This time she props herself up on her elbows, digging them into my ribs. But hey, I’m almost a god; I can take it. Even if her bones feel like they’re made of steel.
“How do you know about that?” she asks.
“Heard you reading, on the beach.”
She narrows her eyes, laces her fingers together on my stomach, and lowers her chin on them. “Anyway, she’s not. When he goes to the show, he sees a ballerina and becomes obsessed with her. She looks just like his first love. So he becomes a producer for the show—because he’s obviously been making tons of money all this time—and is always there, near her.”
“A regular stalker, huh?” I’ve heard some people like that in a romance hero, but I don’t see the appeal. Always found the file C keeps on the others’ soulmates to be creepy. I get the need to spot the women, but keeping track of them is not okay, even if he tries to pass it off as being for the greater good.
“But he can’t figure out how to tell her the truth about who or what he is. Where I’m at now, he’s finally asked her on a date,” Joy says.
“Isn’t that sexual harassment, since he’s technically her boss?” Why am I asking these questions?
She grimaces. “I tried not to make it read that way. There was no implication she was obligated to go out with him.”
“Still, he holds the power in this relationship. Plus, he’s a few hundred years older than her. Isn’t it a little creepy?” Shut up, man. Let her tell her story.
Joy slaps my shoulder. “It’s romantic. He’s spent several lifetimes searching The One. He’s found her. And she’s an adult, not a kid, even if he’s got a couple of millennia on her. When she knows who he is, she can make up her own damn mind.”
Her words soothe a worry I didn’t know I felt. If the times comes that I must reveal myself to her, she may be open to what comes with being bonded to an immortal.
“Now can we get back to kissing?” She nuzzles my chest, and then stretches to kiss a line up my neck.
Her warm body presses against my erection, and her arousal fills my nostrils. If we don’t get up now, I’ll do something foolish, like say screw it and fuck her where we lie.
I pat her ass and kiss the crown of her head. “We should get you to your room.”
She must read more into my suggestion, because she gets to her feet reluctantly, worrying her lip with her teeth as she picks up her sandals. “I don’t know—”
“To sleep,” I add. “Kalliroe said your schedule is hectic tomorrow, and we need to fit in the shoot in the afternoon too.”
“Ah.” Is that disappointment in her eyes?
I get up too and take her free hand. Bring it to my mouth, so I can press my lips to the pulse point on her inner wrist and feel her pulse racing. “We will continue this.”
Joy arches an eyebrow. “This?”
“The book critique, of course.”
“Of course.” She giggles.
We don’t talk on the way back to her room, but tension and promise build up in the space between us with every step. Our knuckles brush, and my cock stirs. Maybe I should go inside. Wait no longer. Find out tonight if she’s my fated mate, so I keep from falling for her if she’s not.
Who cares if she’s my destiny, though? Who cares what I see when I claim her? Nothing can turn me away from this lovely, open face. Maybe I don’t need to ascend. I could forget about my soulmate and just be happy with Joy.
And that’s as stupid as Dionysos’ refusal to bond with his mate. If Joy isn’t it for me, this euphoria I feel around her is only temporary and will mean nothing compared to the real thing.
“This is me.” She points at her door. Squeezing my fingers, she twirls to face me. “Are you okay?” Concern lines her forehead. “You seem like… I don’t know. Too gloomy for you.” She laughs and shakes her head. “Like I know who you are. I don’t even know your name.”
I smile, not to reassure her, but because I can’t help but smile when those green eyes fill my vision. “It really is Hermes.”
“Wow. Really?” A ghost of a frown. “I knew a boy by that name once. Before I was adopted.”