The moment Joy mentioned being in a foster home, everything clicked into place. Joy means hara, in English.Her adoptive parents didn’t change her name; they translated it. She’s the girl from my childhood. Her once mousy-brown hair is colored red, but I should have remembered her eyes. Only, when I try to recall that little girl’s image, it’s blurry and faded with time.
How is she here? Now? Is it fate, or is this C’s way of making good on the single promise to me he ever broke—that I’d see her again? He must have known I’d run into her here. He says he doesn’t choose which parts of the future to glimpse, but why else would he have me sent to this hotel, this moment in time?
Is she my soulmate? And did he know all these years ago? Why didn’t he say anything?
Fuck. Why does the man do any of the things he does? Why did he take in six orphan boys meant to one day rule the world? I used to believe his motives were pure. Now…
No. One misstep won’t make me doubt the man who raised me. He’s always been there for all of us, even when we made it impossibly hard—like when Ares stole his wallet and made a run for it. That buys him at least a chance to explain.
Joy looks up with those green-green eyes, and I want to say screw it, kick down her door, and lie with her. Make love to her till morning. Questions can wait. Answers mean nothing, when her gaze is so full of promise.
“What happened to the boy?” I ask.
Her answer makes no sense. C did formally adopt me eventually, but Joy was there when he and I blinked out of the home, in the middle of the night. Only, kids’ memories don’t last, and C may have messed with hers. Why doesn’t she sound more certain, though? If he had everyone convinced things were done properly, why does she doubt it?
Fuck it all, answers are necessary now. But first, I must taste her again. I step closer, sandwiching her warm body between mine and the door, and kiss her. Can she tell how much I want her? How it will pain me to let go? She sucks on my tongue with such fervor, I’ll be dreaming of her mouth all night, possibly tackling other parts of my anatomy.
It physically hurts me, to pull away from everything I desire. “Not a coincidence. I’ll see you in the morning, sweet Joy.” And I leave, while I’m still able to. Luckily, I’m in this breezy thing, and not jeans, or every step away from her would be cranking my agony up another notch.
My phone is my room, and my card is at reception, together with my clothes. It’s a toss-up between making that detour and calling Sei for his divine intervention. With Thanasis manning the desk at this hour, I’d rather give Sei something to laugh about.
“Sei,” I scream in my head. “I need you.”
“Sei? Dude, I need your help.”
His mental reply sounds annoyed. “Do you know what time it is?”
“I do, but I’m locked outside my room, and—”
The fucker won’t reply to any of my subsequent mental calls. He’ll pay for this when I ascend too.
In case you were wondering, climbing up a wall to the first-floor balcony, in a chlamys and sandals, is a daunting experience. My feet slip more times than I care to admit, and a breeze makes sure I moon anyone who may be on the beach below. Still, my hard-on has marginally subsided by the time I’m safely ensconced in my room. I focus on getting rid of it completely before calling C, because yuck.
Calmer and definitely less horny, I reach for my phone on the nightstand and dial C’s number instead of scrolling through my phonebook. I’ve known his digits by heart since he first got a cell phone.
“Hermes, my boy. How’s modeling treating you?”
I hear the mirth beneath his earnest question, and have to try to hold on to my ire that he wasn’t honest with me about Joy. Who can stay mad at their favorite grandpa?
“Better than I expected,” I say. “Job has some unforeseen perks.”
He sucks in a breath. “I see.”
“How far, though?”
“Pardon?” He sounds genuinely confused, which never happens.
“How far do you see?” I ask. “Like, can you see twenty-four years ahead? Can you see a little girl turning into someone’s soulmate?” Nice work, building that up, self.
The clearing of his throat is exaggerated. A stalling technique. I know all his little quirks. Thought I knew how his mind works, but maybe not. When he finally speaks, it’s in that condescending tone that once had Denny and me talking Hades down from smashing his head in. “I see enough to know what’s in your best interest.”
I’m not used to being at the receiving end of this tone. “So lying to me was for my own good?” I snap. “Do you realize how stupid that sounds?”
“What would you have preferred? That I allowed you to pine over a woman you weren’t supposed to meet before now?” And the condescension thickens.
It puts me on the defensive, and I don’t tone down my sarcasm. “You could have—I don’t know—helped me find her sooner?”
C snorts, and the dismissal cuts me to my core. I’m supposed to be his favorite.
“As what?” he asks. “How would you have introduced yourself to her? A god in waiting? The Hermes from the Greek pantheon, or the Hermes from her foster home? Would you have stomached the deception if you withheld the truth? Would she, when said truth came out?”
I don’t let him see how his attitude and words affect me. “What about this deception?”
“This wasn’t planned on your part; you’re as much an unwitting pawn as she is.”
And the blows keep coming. I force ice into my voice and my veins, as I ask, “Why separate us back then? Why not let us grow to fall in love? She might accept my true self then.”
“She might.” He pauses. Or is that all he has to say? But no, he goes on, and he’s once again the loving grandfather who cleaned my scrapes every single one of a million times I fell off my bike. “I’m sorry, my boy. This was the single scenario I saw ending happily for you. You must believe I did what was best. Don’t you trust me to know what that is?”
I do, but for the first time in the two dozen years he’s been my family, I’m not sure whom his best applies to.
At least I have confirmation Joy’s my soulmate, and that means there’s no reason not to go back to her room and make love to her till morning.
Except for the fact that I’ll have to explain why I’ve been changing my mind all evening, and I don’t feel like more talking. I feel like tasting her. Everywhere.
I kill the lights and drop back on the bed, on top of the covers, one arm folded beneath my head.
I need a plan. I can bed a nun—it’s won me a bet with Hades—but have no clue how to approach a woman for more than a night of passion.
Do I need to declare my intentions in advance? I usually do, but it’s to save women the heartache of hoping for a future with me. If I tell Joy I plan on claiming her for life—a seriously extended life—she’ll run for the hills.
I could pick up from where we left off. Ask her on a date tomorrow. Take her somewhere nice and dazzle her with my charm. Get to know her better. Let her see how irresistible I am.
Then spring the truth on her and bond her?
No. No springing of anything. Except my cock. Ha. She has to know what she’s signing up for. She’s seen me and C disappear into thin air. Almost saw Sei and me materialize out of nowhere this morning. She’ll believe me if I tell her everything.
Maybe I’ll do so when she’s in the throes of passion. I can see her now, riding me, head tossed back and messy hair framing her face like a wildfire. Her eyes blazing with hunger for what only I can provide. Heavy beasts jigging, begging me to raise my head and trap a pebbled nipple with my teeth.
My cock is hard again, but I no longer need to ignore it. I flip up the skirt of my chlamys and close my fingers around my shaft.
“I did not wanna see that.” Sei’s voice booms in the dark room.
“Fuck.” I let go of my dick to slam my hand on the light switch, and sit up, not bothering to hide my hard-on. “Ever heard of knocking, bro?”
“Ever heard of not screaming in my head when I’m pleasuring my mate? And for Chaos’ sake, put that thing away.”
I flick my cock with my index finger and watch it bob. “Giving you an inferiority complex?”
“Reminding me I need to buy bait for the next time I go fishing.”
I laugh and tug one corner of the covers over my lap. “What brings you here now, when I no longer need you?”
Sei sits at the foot of the bed gingerly, like my dick could jump at him any time now. “I tend to return missed calls. Everything all right?”
It is now, more or less, but since he’s here… “I found my soulmate.”
He howls a laugh, and for a second, he seems about to hug me. Instead, he punches the air and then steeples his fingers on his bent knee. “You sure?”
“I am. C confirmed it.”
“Of course he did.” Sei sucks air in through his teeth. “Let me guess. He’s always known, but didn’t tell you sooner because… timing.”
I glare. “You know he’s usually right.”
With a sigh, he runs his fingers through his dark hair. “He sure likes us to believe so.”
Okay, this isn’t the right time to get into his distrust of the only man who ever cared about us. Not that I can hold back, when my first instinct is to stick up for C. “He spent the past twenty-something years making sure we’re prepared for what’s to come. Devoted his life to us.”
Sei nods while I speak, but the moment I stop, he says, “But why do that? And who is he?”
“He’s C. The all-knowing old man.”
“And you’re okay with this?” Sei narrows his eyes. “He’s not human.”
Well duh. “Neither are we. But why does this matter now? We’ve all known from the start.”
With a tortured sigh, he climbs to his feet and strolls to the balcony doors. He stops and clasps his hands behind his back. “It matters, because he’s hiding more. Before Irine and I got together, he told me Aphrodite is back. Said he just found out, but he was lying. I could tell.”
“Aphrodite is back? Like, the Aphrodite? From our pantheon?” Yes, I sound stupid, but this reveal kind of hit me hard. Why would C tell Sei and not me? Why would Sei keep it a secret until now?
“He told me because I was supposed to be the next Father of Gods, and I didn’t share because he wanted to tell the rest of you about her himself.”
“Get out of my head,” I snap. I hate when he does this. It’s one thing to hold a mental conversation, and another entirely for him to pick up my thoughts.
He turns to face me. “Not my fault. You were projecting them.” He rolls his eyes. “Sorry, bro. C used the same excuse on me, and I didn’t like it.”
“It’s okay.” I stand too and make sure my dick’s covered. “What else did he tell you about her?”
“She’s mated to Nerites, son of Nereus, and appears to be perfectly happy.”
That’s good, isn’t it? “Should we reach out?”
A shrug. “Not my call. Hades should make that decision, but he’s not ascended yet. This is what I want us all to discuss when you’re back. There’s something else too, but it can wait.”
I snort. “Another lost sister?”
“It can wait.” His tone says I should let it go.
I do, but it’s fucking hard.
“So who’s your soulmate?” he asks.
“Joy.” Saying her name has a smile tugging on my lips. “Romance author.” I waggle my eyebrows. “Eroticromance author.”
He nods approvingly. “Can’t beat a woman with an imagination.”
“And yet, instead of taking advantage of that imagination, you’re here, playing with yourself.”
No lie detected. “Fuck.”
“Yeah. Go do that.”