Standing on the steps of the Olympus Administration building, the pain in my chest worsens. Unsurprisingly, the monstrosity construction abuts from the ground, calling attention to it from any vantage point. My grandfather never does anything halfway. His decision to return to prominence with such a flourish should shock no one.
On the very edge of the entrance, teetering on the balls of my feet, my weight pitching back and forth, wavering in my decision to return. A part of me wishes to disappear back to California, to pretend Zeus had never appeared, that the ache in my chest has not gotten worse. Something’s pulling me back to Olympus, to my family, and the more I resist, the worse it gets.
Maybe I should try again tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow, one more day of freedom. Then I’ll be ready to face them. Turning to leave, jumping slightly down the step, feeling lighter with my decision to postpone my return, I halt when a voice calls my name, freezing me in my tracks.
Shutting my eyes, immediately regretting the decision to strap my thigh holster full of shortened arrows, and the bow and quiver across my back. It was the only way she could have recognized me. As always, my folly leads to my downfall. Turning slowly around, I face my Aunt Nike.
She’s exactly how I remembered her, her face alight with childlike excitement, her wings shaking slightly in enthusiasm.
“Hey, Aunt.” I murmur, tucking my hands into my jeans pockets, preparing for the questions I knew were coming.
I stumble when she suddenly throws herself into my arms, hugging me with her considerable strength. A surprised chuckle breaks from my throat, and I wrap my arms around her after a moment, inhaling her familiar scent. Her heart’s desire whispers through my mind, to figure out what’s wrong with me.
Alarm bells immediately blare through my head. Nike is the most pure of all of us, there’s nothing wrong with her.
Releasing her, she vibrates visibly with excitement in front of me, grabbing my hand and bouncing slightly up and down. “Where have you been? Are you home for good? Have you seen your parents? Your brothers? Are you here to see Daddy? You’re staying here now, right?”
“Okay, take a breath,” I smile, interrupting her mid-tirade. “One question at a time, Tory.”
The nickname slips from me quickly, throwing me immediately back to the last time I saw her, the exact place I was hoping to avoid. Tory, short for Victory, was something I called her forever, when we used to work side by side. There is victory in a hard won love.
She narrows her eyes at me, glancing at my shoulders, and after a beat of confusion, I realize why. She’s looking for my wings, another discussion I’m hoping to avoid as long as possible.
Looping my arm through hers, I start strolling back to the Olympus building, distracting her from my lack of wings. “So tell me, Tory, what have I missed?”
The question easily captures her attention, and she spills all the details about the family as we walk, arm-in-arm, up the stairs to the entrance.
My eyebrows shoot up in surprise when she explains the most recent incidents with Erato, the muse. A small smile breaks across my face as Nike recounts the experience with lust dust and her resulting confusion.
Though I’m linked with Nike, the receptionist – who I almost believe to be my mother for a split second before realizing they merely share their looks – calls out to us.
“Sir! Sir! You can’t just go up there!” she shouts, waving us over to the desk, standing, likely expecting to intercept us.
I’m not stopping for any mortal, no matter how much she might look like my mother. Without taking my eyes off Nike, I slip a shortened arrow from my thigh holster into my palm, tossing it in the direction of the receptionist, speeding faster than a bullet.
The mortal screeches in outrage as the arrow lands, pinning her shirt to the wall behind her, preventing her from physically interceding their path, or reaching the desk to buzz security.
Nike hits my arm playfully, scolding me. “Eros!”
I shrug, smiling mischievously at my aunt. What can I say? Sometimes I can’t help myself.
Nike glances over at the still pinned receptionist, who’s trying to stretch forward to slam the security button. “Don’t worry, I’ll escort him up.”
The elevator doors close between us and the lobby, Nike pushing the button for whatever floor Zeus has taken up residence on, giving me the chance to mentally prepare myself for what is waiting for me.
When the elevator stops, and the doors slide open, my grandfather is waiting for me, crackles of electricity coursing through the entire room. He appears exactly as he had in Los Angeles, tailored suit reeking of money, his long white hair and beard neatly groomed, arms crossed over his chest in annoyance. His foot is tapping, slight sparks jutting from his shoes every time they meet the floor.
One of the most genuine smiles breaks across my face at the sight. It was just such a familiar moment.
Instead of prostrating myself before him, I release Nike’s arm, striding up to Zeus, stepping around him at the last second, proceeding into his office and pouring a glass of the high-priced alcohol I notice sitting on the shelf.
With glass in hand, I turn back to face Zeus, leaning my elbows back on the shelf, faking a casualness I don’t feel.
I resist pressing my hand into my chest again as the ache worsens. Sipping it, I tilt my head at the king of the gods, who rounds to face me. Unsurprisingly, Nike disappears out a window at her father’s anger.
“Why am I here?” I ask, avoiding any preamble.
The static in the room rises, making my hair stand on end, but I don’t adjust my pose, waiting for a response.
“You know I have smited gods for less,” he snaps, storming to his desk, gesturing me into one of the vacant chairs in front of his desk.
“I know,” I answer, lounging just as lazily in the chair, slouching my posture as I continue to sip at the drink in my hand. I don’t even taste the alcohol as it burns down my throat.
His stature is no less imposing seated behind his desk, but I keep my body relaxed, refusing to give him the satisfaction of appearing nervous.
Folding his hands in front of him, Zeus leans back in his seat, surveying me silently.
He still knows me so well.
“What’s happened?” I murmur, my curiosity getting the better of me. Again.
Zeus smirks – knowing he’s won our silent battle of wills – reaches into his desk, plopping down a massive file between us.
I set down the glass on his desk, deliberately placing it directly next to the coaster, rather than on top of it, rifling through the papers in the file.
My eyebrows furrow at the documents, which begin with detailing the initial interview and hiring of someone named Cassandra. Impatiently, I lift my gaze to narrow at Zeus, who leans back in his chair, crossing a single ankle over his knee.
“Keep reading,” he murmurs. I do. Curiosity, remember?
I nearly drop the file in surprise when surveillance photos of the secretary follow her employment documents, documenting her on several dates with my father, Ares. I study the photos for long moments, shocked to see my father for the first time in two thousand years. Even more surprising is the sight of clear love on his face when he gazes at the mortal across from him.
In amazement, I continue flipping through the documents, the heart I thought dead in my chest breaking when it comes to the crime scene photos.
This. This is what’s pulled me home. My father’s broken heart. His lost love.