I walked through the front doors of the God Complex and looked around. Nothing had changed, yet I couldn’t help but feel that it was different. It wasn’t one particular thing I could put my finger on.
Before I could think about it further, someone threw their arms around me. “Ares! It’s so good to see you!”
I smiled. “Ah, little one, it has been a while, hasn’t it?” I replied as I hugged my sister.
Stepping back, Nike returned my smile. “Where have you been? I’ve missed you!” She looked around. “Where’s Kara?”
“At home, I would imagine.”
“You mean she’s still not talking to you? After all you did for her?” She stomped her foot angrily. “She’s being unreasonable.”
“I think you need to look at this from her mother’s point of view, Nike. Ever since she met me, Kara has been kidnapped twice and had to kill a minotaur. Her life has been in almost constant danger. If you were in her mother’s shoes, would you want your daughter to associate with someone like that?”
“But none of it was your fault, Ares. If you just go over and explain—”
“I’ve tried,” I replied, interrupting her. “Several times. Her mother just slams the door in my face. It’s hard to argue with a closed door. I’ve tried that many times with Dad.”
“But you’re the God of War. You never lose.”
I touched her face gently. “There is a price to pay for always winning, little one. At some point, even the most victorious of people have to lose. Perhaps having never a real true love is my atonement.”
Nike looked at me, shock written all over her face. “I’ve never heard you talk this way before. Why are you giving up so easily?” she asked as a single golden tear slid down her cheek.
I wiped the tear away with my thumb before dropping my hand to my side. “Athena used to tell me that in battle, a good general knows when to draw back and regroup. A great general knows when the cost of a fight is too great and withdraws from the battlefield. Too much has been lost, Nike. The best thing I can do for everyone involved, especially Kara, is to let her go. If she were to die like Cassie…” I left the rest of the sentence unsaid.
Nike started to say something, but stopped. She knew what Cassie’s death had done to her brother, how torn up he had been, how long he had mourned. “She wouldn’t want you to stop living because she died, Ares.”
I chuckled. “I know that is a saying you picked up from the mortals you care about so much, little one, but it is rather funny to say to someone who is immortal.”
“Well, I won’t allow you to lose,” she retorted, stomping her foot again like a petulant child. “I’m the Goddess of Victory, and I—”
“No!” I said sharply, regretting the tone when I saw her face fall. “No, little one. Your intentions are coming from a good place, but there’s nothing any of us can do.” I pulled her close and hugged her, kissing the top of her head. “I have something I need to do. Call Reginald to set up dinner in the next couple of days. Bring Teddy and your brothers and sister. I’ll ask him to get in touch with some of the others to join us.”
“I do love a good family get-together,” Nike said. “I’ll help arrange everything.”
I saw the mischievous gleam in her eyes and laughed. “I’m not going to tell you to keep things small. You’ve already got something in mind.”
“Just one or two glitter bombs, nothing too outrageous.”
“I’ll leave everything in your capable hands and make sure the insurance is paid up.” I gave her one more hug and walked over to the bank of elevators.
The elevator doors opened, and I walked out into the lobby. Mother’s secretary—what was their name again, Aphrid? I couldn’t remember—looked up at me. “Ares, what a surprise,” they said. “I take it you’re here to see your mother?”
“Yes, I am. Is she available?”
They looked down at the appointment book on the desk. “Her ten a.m. appointment was canceled at the last minute. Let me call her.” They picked up the phone and pushed a button. “M’lady, your son is here to see you. Ares, ma’am. As you wish.” They hung up. “She says to go right in.”
“Thank you.” Walking past their desk, I knocked on the door.
Taking a deep breath, I turned the knob. The door opened to reveal my mother sitting on the couch. Closing the door, I smiled at her. “Hello, Mother.”
“Ares. It’s good to see you. Where have you been?”
“Are things so busy at your company that you haven’t been able to come see me?”
“I’ve been dealing with some personal issues.”
“Kara,” she said knowingly. I shrugged. She patted the cushion next to her. “Sit down.”
I hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly walked over and sat down beside her. “How have you been?” I asked her.
Mother brushed some imaginary crumbs from her royal blue pants. “Fine. Business is good. Your father is, well, the same as usual. Everyone in the family has been busy doing their own things. I’ve hardly seen any of you.”
“You know how to find my office,” I pointed out to her. “You could have dropped by to see me any time.”
“Oh, I know what you’ve been up to,” she replied. “Reginald keeps me updated regularly.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course he does.” I was going to have to talk to him about his loose lips.
“You’re here because of Kara.”
“There is nothing to say,” I said. “The decision has been made without my input.”
Mother studied my face for a moment. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you give up on anything before.”
I shrugged. “Her mother…”
“All mothers are protective of their children, regardless of what age they are. I assure you, if I thought for one minute that this young woman wasn’t the right choice for you, I would have already stepped in to stop the relationship.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Don’t use that look with me. I invented it. On you, it looks ridiculous.”
“Ares, why are you here?”
I debated lying to her, but that had never gone well in the past. Besides, I could tell by the look on her face that she knew exactly why I had come to see her. She just wanted to see me squirm. “You’re the Goddess of Women and Marriage. Who else would I go to for advice?”
A look of surprise flickered across her face but quickly disappeared. Standing up, she walked over to the credenza. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked, picking up a delicate peacock teacup.
“No, thank you.”
She fixed her tea and returned to her seat. “Your problem, my beloved son, is that you expect women to fall at your feet. That’s not the way things work in this day and age.”
“Cassie made that quite clear.”
“Ah yes, Cassandra. She is your other issue.”
I just stared at her.
“You’re afraid to get close to another woman because of what happened to her. Her loss is different from the ones you felt for your men in battle. Theirs was for the greater good; hers was senseless and unnecessary. But you also discovered that you could feel something in your heart, your very soul. The love you shared had meaning. For the first time, you connected with someone you didn’t see as a playtoy, a quick fling.”
“That’s not true. Aphrodite…”
Mother held up her hand to cut me off. “I sometimes wonder if you stayed with her so long to spite your brother.”
“That’s not true.”
She took a sip of her tea. “Let’s not rehash ancient history, shall we? Kara has proven her worth to you. She has been through two terrible ordeals because of her relationship with you. But what have you done to prove your worth to her?”
“I went after her. I fought for her.”
“But have you shown her that you love her? That you would do anything for her, no matter how foolish you might look doing it?”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” I said.
“Perhaps so, but women in this day and age like sentimentality. They love it when their men do the little things to show their love. The real question is, Ares, what are you willing to do for this woman to prove you love her? Until you figure that out, you’ll never get her back.” She took another sip of her tea and looked at her watch. “I’m afraid I have another appointment in ten minutes, so you’ll have to excuse me.” She stood up and waited for me to stand as well. “I love you, my son,” she said, giving me a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m sure you’ll figure this out. I, for one, hope you do. I need more grandchildren to spoil.”
As I rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I thought about what she said. Never in my life had I been required to prove my worth to someone. Exactly how was I supposed to do that?
The doors opened, and as I started to step out, a voice in front of me stopped me cold. “Hello, Father.”
I closed my eyes and shook my head. I could tell just by the tone of his voice that he knew why I had gone to see my mother. What had I done to deserve this? “Hello, Eros.”