Authors: Kristine Grayson
Tags: #Fiction, #Humorous, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Paranormal
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
For my niece, Priscilla Wolfe, with much love
Many thanks to John Scognamiglio for all his work on these books and to Merrilee Heifetz for believing in them. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Malibu Brain Trust for that discussion on historical philanderers (you guys are so brilliant!). Thanks also to my husband for dragging me into the Idaho wilderness where I learned two things: how very beautiful and primitive some parts of the United States are, and how much I love civilization.
(2,700 Years Ago)
“Cupid is stupid.” Darius stabbed his javelin into the ground and crossed his arms.
The sky was an unbelievable shade of blue and the grass was emerald. In the distance, Mount Olympus disappeared into the clouds. To his left, a silver pool with a golden waterfall released spray that haloed in the sun.
He was covered with sweat from his practice session. He spent most of the day with the javelin. The day before, he had concentrated on his discus throw. In a few weeks’ time, he had to defend his position as the first winner of the Olympic Pentathlon, and he was not about to give up his title.
The Fates stood before him. They wore white gowns that were held in place by a gold brooch on the right shoulder. Their sandals were also made of gold.
“Cupid?” Clotho asked. A large replica of a spool of thread held her blond hair in place.
“Whom are you calling Cupid?” Lachesis asked. Her red hair had been divided into sections, which Darius took to be representative of Lots. Her supposed duty as a Fate was the Dispenser of Lots, the one of the three who theoretically assigned each living person a destiny.
“Eros.” Darius answered the question with more than a little annoyance.
“Eros?” Atropos asked. A golden set of shears held up her long black hair in an elaborate style. “No one calls Eros Cupid.”
“The Romans do.”
“Those pretenders who give so much credence to Romulus and Remus?” Clotho asked.
“Those pretenders are going to be important,” Darius said. “Just you watch. I think they’re power-hungry, greedy, and more man a little vicious. I bet in a couple hundred years, everyone will have heard of Rome.”
“You’re not here to wager on anything,” Lachesis said. “You are here to answer our questions.”
He knew that. He had known that the moment they had whisked him away from his practice session near Athens. He had no idea where he was now. He had been about to throw his javelin and then, one blink later, he was standing next to this pool.
Darius knew the pool was magical. Water could turn silver in the moonlight and golden in the sunlight, but it was never both at once.
“Ask away,” he said. “But get me back before the sun goes down. I have a lot of work left to do.”
“Throwing that stick?” Atropos asked.
“It’s not a stick,” he said. “It’s a javelin.”
“We know,” Clotho said. “But you are not a warrior. You are a gamester.”
“We do not approve of games,” Lachesis said.
“I’ve heard you don’t approve of much.” Darius was getting tired of this. And he was getting cold. The air here had a chill and his sweat hadn’t dried yet. Although it should have. Were they doing this deliberately to torture him?
“Really?” Atropos asked. “Who told you this?”
Darius shrugged. “People talk, you know.”
“About us?” Clotho asked.
“About everything.” He didn’t want the Fates to know he had checked up on them. He figured they weren’t much of a threat to him, but it was always good to know your potential enemy.
“You listen to gossip.” Lachesis frowned. “Is this where you get your information about Eros?”
“What information?” Darius said. “All I did was tell you he’s stupid.”
“You dare malign the God of Love?” Atropos asked.
“He’s no more the God of Love than I am.” This conversation was going nowhere. Darius wished he had a tunic, but he didn’t want to spell one while in the Fates’ presence. That would show them he was uncomfortable, and he didn’t want to be at a disadvantage. “Eros is a little spoiler who likes playing with people’s lives. Just because he’s decided to use his considerable magic to bring couples together doesn’t mean that I have to respect it.”
The Fates raised their chins in unison. They did most things in unison. They were the ruling tribunal of the magical, the court of last resort. They had the power to punish those who misused their magic, and their sentences were feared throughout the known world.
Feared by everyone except Darius. He’d done a little research on the Fates. He’d found out that they were students of the Powers That Be—interns, to be more precise, practicing their newly acquired knowledge on those below them.
If the Fates misused that knowledge, they’d be demoted, returned to the ranks of the average mage. There was no guarantee that they’d move into the exalted ranks of the Powers That Be anyway. There hadn’t been a vacancy in that august body since Earth was covered with primordial ooze.
“Did you or did you not induce the mortal known as Homer to write of Eros …”
Then Clotho paused and a piece of parchment appeared in her hand. A moment later, parchment appeared in the hands of Lachesis and Atropos.
They read in unison:
Evil his heart, but honey-sweet his tongue.
No truth in him, the rogue. He is cruel in his play.
Small are his hands, yet his arrows fly far as death.
Tiny his shaft, but it carries heaven high.
Touch not his treacherous gifts, they are dipped
Darius frowned. “That wasn’t Homer. I told Homer to ignore the bastard.”
“Eros is not a bastard,” Lachesis said.
“His mother is one of the Powers That Be.” As Atropos said that, all three Fates bowed their heads and spread out their hands in a reflexive movement.
“She would be quite angry to hear you speak like this.” Clotho cringed just a little, as if she were afraid of Aphrodite.
Darius ignored them. They seemed to prattle a lot. “It was another poet whose name escapes me. They’re all alike, thinking—well, thinking too much, for one thing. And they never exercise. Whoever said writers were touched by the gods were wrong. Writers are ignorant, easily manipulated, arrogant—”
“Did you or did you not force those words to be written?” Lachesis asked.
“Well, I didn’t force them,” Darius said. “It was more like a suggestion.”
“While you were pretending to be this mortal poet’s muse?” Atropos asked.
“I wasn’t pretending. I was his inspiration. I’ve inspired a dozen poets. They sing of my athletic prowess. They—”
“Eros is very angry about the phrasing in this so-called work of art,” Clotho said.
“Particularly the ‘tiny his shaft’ part,” Lachesis said.
“It was all we could do to prevent him from showing us how inaccurate that was.” Atropos grimaced, as if the memory were distasteful.
“You brought me here because of a poem?” He’d heard that the Fates were capricious, but he had no idea how capricious.
“Of course not,” Clotho said. “There are other complaints.”
Darius resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He was certain there were other complaints. The battle between him and Cupid or Eros or whatever the little troublemaker wanted to be called had been going on for the last ten years.
It had started when Darius was fifteen. He had been walking through the agora in the center of town. He wasn’t shopping, although he had bought himself a few too many glasses of wine at some of the market’s booths, but he was still steady on his feet.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw some movement. A slender man wearing a loincloth was pointing an arrow at him. Darius hadn’t come into his magical powers yet, but he was the fastest man in Athens. He managed to snatch the arrow away from the man before the man had a chance to release it from his bow.
At that moment, Darius realized the man he was dealing with had wings—dirty little stumpy wings—and he was very angry.
He wasn’t used to being thwarted when he was shooting his arrows of love. Darius had misunderstood the reference at first, and when he finally did understand it (after much shouting), he grew even angrier.
Darius believed that Cupid—as he started calling the little bastard almost immediately (having learned that the barbarian name irritated the golden-haired cherub)—should have recognized another mage, even if the mage was six years away from gaining his powers.
Cupid, on the other hand, said his power over love extended beyond mortals to mages, an argument which irritated Darius to this day. Mortals, in Darius’s opinion, were useless creatures with the lifespan of gnats, certainly not comparable to the magical immortals who could live for thousands of years.
When Cupid pointed out that Darius took that attitude because he hadn’t lived as long as most mortals and didn’t know what magic was, the damage had been done. Darius decided the two of them were enemies for life.
“What other complaints?” Darius asked, as if he didn’t know all the things he had done to the winged troublemaker.
“You tipped his arrows with lead,” Lachesis said.
“So?” Darius said.
“Couples who were supposed to fall in love hated each other on first sight,” Atropos said.
“So?” Darius asked. “Why should it matter? If emotions are that easy to trifle with, maybe they should be banished.”
“You have disturbed the cosmic order,” Clotho said.
“You’re telling me that little idiot’s arrows are part of the cosmic order?” Darius shook his head. “What purpose would that serve?”
“I grant you,” Lachesis said, “it is a crude device and our predecessors—”
The Fates looked at each other and shuddered slightly.
“—could have been more subtle,” Atropos finished.
“But they had a master plan,” Clotho said.
“They believed that love is the essence of all existence,” Lachesis said.
“We still believe that,” Atropos said.
“It is the basis of our prophecies,” Clotho said.
“What prophecies?” Darius asked, then mentally kicked himself. He really wanted to get back to practice. He needed to finesse his javelin technique and he was here, talking with these glorified secretaries. He planned to win his second Olympic competition like he had won his first—without magical intervention of any kind. That meant he had to be in tip-top physical condition. A missed day was a missed opportunity.
“No one has told you of the prophecies?” Lachesis frowned and looked at the others.
“You are in charge of destinies,” Atropos whispered to Lachesis.
“Assigning them, not explaining them,” Clotho said.
“I know that.” Lachesis sounded annoyed.
“So what is Darius’s?” Atropos said.
“I don’t remember if you ever shared it with us,” Clotho said.
Darius was getting annoyed. How disorganized were these women?
Lachesis patted her tunic as if she were searching for something. Then she snapped her fingers, and another piece of parchment appeared.
“He must have a heart before it can break,” she said.
“What in Hades does that mean?” Darius asked. “I have a heart. I can feel it beating every time I run.”
“A heart does more than beat,” Atropos said.
“Most hearts,” Clotho said softly to her companions. “Remember, we are speaking of Darius here.”
“Ah, yes,” Lachesis said. “The man who destroyed several perfect love matches all for the sake of a grudge.”
“The man who tried to kill the God of Love,” Atropos said.
“That twerp is not the God of Love!” Darius said.
“That is correct,” Clotho said. “Eros is not the God of Love, but he is the closest thing to it that we have at the moment.”
“At least until he serves out his sentence,” Lachesis said.
“By my calculations,” Atropos said, “he still has seventy-five arrows left in his quiver.”
Clotho sighed. “That’s too many. It will take him another three hundred years to go through them.”
“It was not our sentence,” Lachesis said. “Our predecessors believed this would work.”
Atropos nodded. “It was fine when mortals were primitive, but if a boy like this one can see through the cherub with the arrow routine—”
“I am not a mortal!” Darius said.
“We know that,” Clotho said. “But it really doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t have been able to see what he was doing.”
“We are not here to discuss Eros,” Lachesis said. “We’re here to discuss his complaints.”
“They’re more than complaints,” Atropos said. “Some are quite serious.”
“Particularly the last,” Clotho said.
“If you mean the hot wax thing,” Darius said, “I can explain.”
“You do not need to explain,” Lachesis said. “You interfered with the greatest love of all time. The redemptive love.”
Darius rolled his eyes. He hadn’t done much. Cupid had fallen for a beautiful, smart, and cold woman named Psyche and made her promise not to look at him. Stupid promise, which of course she couldn’t keep. So one night, Darius talked her into looking at Cupid in his sleep, and then Darius made hot wax from her candle drip on his shoulder.