Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
LENGTH: 85,000 words, 320 pages
Midlife Muse is a paranormal women’s fiction fantasy novel and new action and adventure tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.
I may look like a 40-year-old woman, but inside I’m a goddess.
My name is Goddess Atlanta. Haven’t you heard of me? No? Bet you’ve heard of my twin sister, Athena, the Goddess of War. Sure. Everyone’s heard of her.
Shunned by my birth family, I grew up with the Muses as sisters and friends. Being a Muse sucked, though, and I failed at inspiring others.
What can I say? Being a warrior is the song that sings in my blood. Just hand me a sword and move back while I call down lightning. Be careful though because my aim’s not what it used to be. Becoming a 40-year-old and mostly mortal woman has taken a toll, especially on my knees.
Because of my father, my entire pantheon is also mortal and dying. I have to find a worthy champion to help me save us all. Failure is not an option no matter how old or mortal I get.
My name is Atlanta, Goddess of the Doomsday Prophecy. And this is my Mortal Midlife Story.
Author Note: This new story is both paranormal fantasy (think Gods, Trolls, Pegasi, and Dragons) and women’s fiction (think issues of aging). Some romantic elements are also included. This is the first book in my new series which has its roots in Greek mythology. You can count on the good guys winning some of their battles, but that’s the only promise I can make. As with all my work, there will be lots of laughs along the way.
“Atlanta, what are you doing?”
I looked up from my tasks. “Getting ready to work out. I’m almost done.”
Zavak snorted as he stomped away from me. When he got to the other side of the dirt circle he called a training area, my long-time trainer stopped and glared at me as if I was ruining his entire day.
I needed to hurry. Zavak’s patience with me was time sensitive, so I quickly shoved my muscle rub, aspirin, and B-12 vitamins back into my workout bag hoping they didn’t break the glasses that had gotten tossed in there first. I normally left my reading glasses behind in the office. When I grabbed my workout bag, I’d forgotten the reading glasses parked on top of my head.
We’d been following the same routine since my exile into the Mortal Realm. It had worked fairly smoothly for the six years I’d been living here. I kept a ready bag with all my stuff at the office with me. When Zavak opened a portal, I grabbed it and leaped through into his tiny part of the God Realm. We would spend an unpleasant hour keeping my fighting skills as sharp as possible before he sent me back.
“Atlanta? What are those Gaia-forsaken things covering your knees?”
He’d yelled the question across the distance now separating us. Surprised by Zavak’s observation, I looked down at my stretchy knee supports and sighed before yelling back my answer.
“They brace my kneecaps and keep my joints warm. I don’t want stiff knees after working out.”
It wasn’t a total lie, but to be fair, it wasn’t the whole truth either. If Zavak suspected that, he didn’t show it. Precautions were necessary now that I had aged so much. Healers in the God Realm were powerful. Healers in the Mortal Realm couldn’t instantly heal broken body parts, especially things like knees.
As I best I could estimate, my body was around forty-years-old in mortal years. A serious injury might not speed up my aging spiral, but I couldn’t take any chances that it would weaken me further. Everyone needed to eat, and I ran a business that currently employed my whole freaking family.
Not that my personal trainer had sympathy for my family situation. How could Zavak understand? Demi-gods were a grumpy bunch with their inferiority complexes over being half-god instead of a full one, but at least no one was running them out of their native realm. The Fates, for whatever reason, had left them in the God Realm.
Zavak was a burly Minotaur with enough face piercings to start his own shop. He was also the most loyal friend I had next to Duff. I didn’t know if Zavak thought his piercings raised his intimidation factor or that he looked sexy with them. Whatever the case, he stared at my knee supports a moment more before turning away to shake his head.
After six years of getting those looks, I couldn’t tell the difference between disgust and pity on his bull-like face. Either way, I refused to dwell on Zavak’s nuances.
I cupped my hands around my mouth to yell again. “I’m good. Come at me with all you got.”
Why was I here facing down a Minotaur who had very real intentions of hurting me? I’d decided that if I had to live as a mortal for the rest of my life, I wanted to be a kick-ass one. At least, I wanted that until I got too old to lift my leg into a round-off high enough to loosen someone’s teeth.
“Am I going to damage you?” Zavak asked loudly. He stared hard at me while he waited for my answer.
“Only in your dreams,” I yelled back with a smile. Fake it until you make it was my motto.
His bullish bellow filled the air as he picked up his mace and started toward me. I looked around and realized I’d neglected to choose a weapon. Great. Just great. I clenched my fists and sighed.
Once upon a time in the God Realm, I’d been a powerful goddess. Though I’d never found my goddess specialty, which was a big deal in the God Realm, I developed all the talents I discovered in myself over the centuries. After Zavak trained me to fight, I discovered I excelled at war. Zavak even admitted I was a natural. Unfortunately, no one wanted to hear about how good I was in battle because my father had forbidden me to raise a weapon against anyone.
My name is Atlanta, and I’m a goddess of nothing specific. Or at least, I used to be a goddess. Every moment I spent living as an aging midlife mortal made it even more unlikely that I would ever figure out the true purpose for which I was born.
There were no grand stories about me in Greek Mythology. No one would ever read any true stories either, not on papyrus, scroll, or inscribed in a marble column of some majestic Greek temple.
No, but everyone knows my powerful twin—Athena, Goddess of War. Athena got to stand proudly in the Greek spotlight. I didn’t.
To this very day, Athena denies both my existence and being my twin. We’re only semi-identical, but the resemblance is definitely there despite any glamour Athena uses.
I couldn’t hate my sister back, no matter how much she probably deserved it. My adopted mother said Zeus had spelled Athena to forget me after our birth. Sometime over the many centuries of our existence, my twin shook off the magical constriction that kept us apart. However, meeting me didn’t change the fact that we were strangers to each other. Despite how it works with mortals, Goddesses can’t miss a twin they never knew about.
However, I detested my father. Shortly after our birth, our father killed our birth mother. The way my adopted mother explained it, he almost killed me too. Apparently, Zeus decided he didn’t need both of his firstborn children. Since Athena was born a few seconds before me, Zeus made her his champion.
Me, though? Zeus sent me to live with Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory, who at the time was the size of the entire island of Santorini because she was carrying his next nine daughters. Growing up too quickly, I soon discovered my father had knocked up a lot of Goddesses who were back then milling about in both the God Realm and the Mortal Realm.
Despite my fast physical acceleration to near adulthood, mentally I’d still only understood what an older teenager would about life. An adopted mother who controlled memories came with other disadvantages too. Some of those upset me even now when they surfaced. The worst part of my abbreviated youth was that my mother always did what Zeus told her to do concerning me. Controlling her adopted daughter’s growth, learning, and personality seemed to stay at the top of my mother’s to-do list, even after her nine natural daughters were born.
“You came here to fight, Atlanta. You always say you’re not a muse, so stop musing and pay attention to me,” Zavak roared.
Zavak was right. I hadn’t been paying attention, but no way was I admitting that to His Snorting Grumpiness today. “How can I not pay attention to you, Zavak? You snort like a bull and are as big as one.”
His mace swung at me and I adeptly dodged the first swipe. Muscle memory was such a wonderful thing.
The second swing got closer, but I luckily missed connecting with that one as well.
Unfortunately, a twinge in my right knee caught my attention, so I wasn’t so lucky with the third swipe. The pointy head of Zavak’s weapon hit me in the stomach and sent me flying as my scream of surprise filled the air.
After launching several of his pupils out of sight with a direct hit, Zavak paid a coven of witches to ward the boundary of his training area to keep his victims—I mean, pupils—from escaping. Fortunately, I didn’t end up going into some other demi-god’s territory. Unfortunately, I hit Zavak’s warded wall, bounced off, and then fell face-down into dirt.
Several minutes ticked by until I could bring myself to even roll over and groan. I’d used my waning goddess power to do some magical chores for my Leprechaun roommate yesterday, and now I was paying for that decision. With my body aching and my breath ragged, I felt more mortal than I should have given how conservative I’d been with my power. Destiny was catching up, though.
The ground shook as Zavak jogged over to me with his mace still in his hand. My blurring eyes traveled up a set of extremely manly and muscular legs. Unfortunately, they cleared enough for me to get a full view of what the Minotaur hid under the sparring kilt covering the bottom half of his body. Enormous man parts dangling above my still spinning head had me crawling away and scrambling against dizziness to get back on my feet.
“This happened last time,” he said.
I groaned as I got up on all fours. Somehow I managed to get to my knees, even with everything still spinning. Pride filled me to have survived as well as I had, and that made me smile at Zavak after he came into focus.
Once a warrior goddess, always a warrior goddess.
When I was mostly certain I wouldn’t pass out, I held up both hands. “See? I’m fine, Zavak. Just give me a minute. I overused my power yesterday. My bad…”
His snorts were loud as he shook his big bull head. “No. That’s it, Atlanta. No more training. I refuse to be the cause of your death. I will not bring you here again until you get your power back. Contact me when you are less mortal.”
“But we have to keep training. I don’t want to lose my skills. What if I don’t ever get all my power back? You know my mortal situation may not be fixable,” I reminded him with a frown.
“Then may the Fates be kind enough to let someone kill you quickly—someone other than me,” Zavak said with a shrug as he scooped up my damaged body and tossed me.
“No, Zavak, please don’t send me back…” But it was too late for pleading.
I shot out of the portal into the Mortal Realm and landed as hard on the floor of my office as I had against Zavak’s warded wall. Groaning again, I rolled to the side and pushed myself up as best I could. Seconds later, my workout bag shot out of the portal and hit me in the back of the head.
If Zavak broke my reading glasses, I would kick some serious Minotaur butt next time I saw him. Or at least I’d try really, really hard. Those were my favorite pair of glasses, and I’d lost all my others. Apparently, mortals my age lost their some of their eyesight. I could still see across a room, but I couldn’t work on my computer tablet without a pair.
After I climbed all the way to my feet, which wasn’t easy, I dug into the bag for painkillers and a bottled water. I popped a handful before stumbling to my desk to fall into the expensive, but incredibly comfortable executive chair that had been worth every penny.
I tried not to dwell on whether Zavak got lucky or if me getting my butt kicked justified his fears about damaging me. A knock on my office door interrupted my stupid pity party, and then Clio’s head appeared through a crack.
“I heard a thump, Atlanta. Are you okay?”
“Yes. I was working out.”
“Oh. Okay,” Clio said with a smile. “See you at the meeting shortly. I brought cookies today. They’re the kind you like.”
Cookies. Cookies made me sigh in gratitude. “Thanks, Clio. You made my morning.”
Working with my nine half-sisters was a pain sometimes, but other times they brought me cookies. It was sad how happy the thought of cookies made me. Some tough goddess I was.
The nine Muses were annoying, but I loved them. My nine adopted siblings and their memory-controlling mother were the only family I’d ever really known. Over the years, they became the only family I wanted to claim among my father’s gazillion child creations.
My actual birth family, Zeus and Athena, remained on my bad list.
I’d interacted with my birth sister only a little, the renowned Goddess of War. I’d seen Athena about the same amount of times I’d visited with my birth father, which was only eight times total over a lot of centuries in the God Realm.
After many failed attempts to get to know my famous father and my full twin sister, the Fates had cautioned me away from going near any of the others. Zeus’s other gazillion offspring included legitimate ones like his precious son Ares, born of the Goddess Hera, and too many illegitimate siblings to keep track of without a historian. They also included a bunch of demi-gods, who were half-mortal and half-god.
Mostly I followed the Fates edict to ignore my familial urge to connect, but one day several centuries ago, the resentment I felt toward Zeus and Athena caught up with me. Or maybe it was all the wars going on in the world and all the chances for glory I felt I was missing because of them. I forget what I was thinking at the time, but I did something that the Fates specifically warned me not to do. The Fates served as crazy maiden aunts to all of Zeus’s progeny, even though in reality they were only related to Athena and me through our birth mother.
Both mortals and immortals were typically afraid of the Fates, and with good reason, but long-felt resentment can destroy common sense. Or that’s the conclusion I eventually came to in my own mind.
And I admit I blew them off at the time, partly because the Fates hadn’t technically forbidden me to get involved in what was happening in the world. Zeus had done that, but in my rebellion, I no longer cared what he ordered me to do or not do. I’d been quietly rebelling for years before I snapped. I trained with Zavak and nothing dire came of my actions.
Angry and hurt, my focus had been on revenge, and I wasted no time getting it every way I could. Yes, I was younger—younger and stupider. Dumb happens to everyone, right?
Every time my twin sister Athena got a new temple, it seemed like the Mortal Realm rubbed salt in my wounds on purpose. Back then, I considered the Muses to be my pseudo-siblings instead of my real ones. Being abandoned and shunned by Zeus and Athena hurt me in ways I still can’t fully explain, but my emotional pain over it drove me.
I guess with my birth mother dead before I got a chance to know her I grew up with no sense of self. When you add in the fact that what remained of my birth family wanted nothing to do with me, what you get is one seriously mentally effed up goddess. Someone with my power should never let that happen, but the God Realm doesn’t believe in mental therapy. If you have a problem, you destroy the source. You kill it, capture it, or spell it into servitude. They’re not big on peace either.
Now don’t get me wrong. My adopted family treated me well, and I loved them. But I never fit in with them. The Muses spent their time doing crafts and learning to write, sing, or dance. I spent my days practicing with all the swords and weapons I could beg, borrow, or steal from everyone willing to sneak behind Zeus’s back to loan them to me.
Once—in a juvenile fit—I stole my father’s famous thunderbolt. He still doesn’t know I took it because I returned it quickly after he destroyed several Mortal Realm cities looking for it. Zeus had a lot of enemies, and he blamed them instead of his own people.
I heard about his reaction through Mother, who hopefully still doesn’t know I was behind that little rebellion because I learned the hard way to keep her out of my head. Both Athena and Ares got grilled about it, but Zeus never once looked in my direction.
As far as I know, none of my siblings ever got close to manifesting a power anywhere as volatile and destructive as Zeus’s lightning. Or at least they never got as close as I did.
Both Athena and Ares would have used that kind of power to make a grab for the Numero Uno God seat. Me, though? I never wanted that kind of responsibility.
No—back then, I only wanted Zeus to admit he’d made a giant mistake about not claiming me as his own.
When my regular weapons training was far enough along with Zavak, I assumed a Roman goddess name in the Mortal Realm and started secretly helping the ambitious Romans do their world-conquering thing. What did I care about the Greek cities and landmarks that the Romans ransacked? Alexander the Great, my twin sister’s pet project, had already turned out not to be as great as he thought he was. I had a bigger vision for the Romans.
Admittedly, it took me quite a long time to wreck all the havoc I wanted to wreck. Still, in less than a century, I made the Greek people and their arrogant pantheon of gods thoroughly pay for shunning me—even though most of them still didn’t know who I am.
Believing I was a true Roman warrior goddess, some in my pantheon petitioned the Roman pantheon to stop me. It was my single most glorious moment. The Greek pantheon decided I was using my goddess power a little too freely with the Roman mortals. They complained I was threatening the balance—like that was some real thing. Yeah, right… no.
Of course, the Roman pantheon laughed at their request—mostly because they loved that I was annoying the almighty Zeus and Athena, his precious warrior princess. I loved it too and I never outing my true identity. I’d promised Mother I wouldn’t tell anyone until Zeus told the world about me or the Fates allowed me to say who I was.
I didn’t resent my promise because I loved my secret Roman identity. Being Zeus’s unwanted spare heir, I got to use my warrior talents for any purpose I wanted to use them. The Roman pantheon didn’t care who I was or why I was pretending to be one of them, because I helped them reign supreme in the Mortal Realm.
But—and there’s always a but in every epiphany—eventually my beloved Romans fell to other mortal groups who were being helped by other pantheons. Some modern ones were based solely on science. Applying nothing more than logic to problems made the mortals happier and the Greek and Roman pantheons look ineffective.
My adopted mother used to mess with my memories, but I recall my epiphany happening around the time I realized my crazy aunts, the three Fates, weren’t as crazy as I thought they were. I still haven’t figured out why the Fates didn’t kill me for messing up their BIG PLANS for the Mortal Realm which to this very day they continue to remind me I ruined.
Maybe it was because the Fates saw I truly had learned my lesson about revenge not being worth the cost of so many mortal and immortal lives. I definitely learned that acting out of hate created more problems, and often worse ones, than the one you initially set out to solve.
I also learned that one lone selfish goddess, no matter how angry and motivated, should never try to conquer any realm in its entirety. At least, not without absolute permission from the Fates that it wouldn’t cause utter catastrophe. I knew for a fact that my father had never learned that lesson. You’d have thought that would be clear to me, his second born, but no. I had to become mortal myself to figure out Zeus hadn’t set a good example of using power for good instead of evil.
My interference in the Mortal Realm created long-term consequences. Everyone knows that after the Romans got conquered, the world got crazier than ever. Wars happened in this realm one right after another because they could. Who would stop them? Not any pantheon anymore because the mortals forgot about us. Gods and goddesses entertained themselves by torturing each other instead.
Eventually, mortals developed technology, which everyone from the God Realm blames as the beginning of the end of us. It makes sense when you think about it. What mortal needs a God or goddess when they can find all the help they need on the Internet?
I didn’t know we were in serious trouble until the Greek gods and goddesses got pushed out of God Realm. Portals opened in front of thousands of us all at once, and then we all got tossed into the Mortal Realm. Some of Gaia’s people did the work of exiling us. I felt like my sisters and I should have been exempted, but my Gaia-sent tosser informed me that what was happening was my fault as much as anyone’s. The big bugger sent me through the portal harder than even Zavak threw me.
A few Gods and Goddesses went back to the God Realm and fought to stay, but that didn’t work out well. Trained in war strategy, I knew better than to force my way back, especially with so much guilt weighing on me.
However you want to view what happened, believe me, there are far worse destinies in the God Realm than the destiny we found in the Mortal Realm. Most of us weren’t harmed much by relocating, and being a god or goddess back then wasn’t so bad here. The power loss happened to most of us so slowly that it took several years to even realize what was going on.
I glanced in the mirror only to make sure buttons and zippers were closed properly. I only noticed what was going on when the Muses went from looking like teenagers to looking like soccer moms.
My adopted mother developed worry wrinkles across her forehead and started having migraines with her hormone shifts every month. After all the stuff that had happened to her, I still can’t bring myself to admit she’d had to endure mortal menopause because of something Zeus brought about. Every time I hear about any woman going through the “change” as mortals call it, I get resentful and start looking for a sword so I can kill people.
Even my birth father Zeus, who still considers himself the God of all Gods, is turning gray. At least, this is what my adopted mother told me because she still talks to him all the time.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before I noticed that all the gods and goddesses were undergoing the same changes. I got conservative and stopped using the remaining goddess power I possessed. I saw no point in fighting the inevitable physical changes of my mortal life when the need to survive was forcing me to depend on others.
Giving up my selfish goddess life turned out to be harder than ever could have imagined. Talk about the apple not falling far from the tree it grew on. Zeus may not have raised me, but I knew his blood ran through my veins. It was shocking at first to learn how much I missed mortal adoration.
The only time I’d had all I wanted was during my Roman goddess days. I definitely became my father’s daughter then. My only regret is that by helping the Roman mortals instead of the Greek mortals, I removed many ancient values and mores from the Mortal Realm. In hindsight, I saw that helped the Romans insert laws that favored keeping their emperor ruling over everyone.
For the Fates, my interference with mortals belonging to another pantheon was the final straw. As the daughter of Zeus, they said I set into motion the very doomsday prophesy the Fates kept warning about.
What can I say? Like most young adults, I learned the hard way that all my decisions came with consequences that affected more than just me. Things in the God Realm spun wildly out of control after the Romans succeeded. Zeus, no matter how devious he acted, failed to change anything. Six years ago Gaia’s patience with our pantheon’s selfish actions toward mortals and each other came to a reasonable end. All mothers are like that—even the Mother of the Earth, apparently.
So now I look like a forty-year-old mortal woman because in the Mortal Realm, I’m rapidly becoming one. Each day I struggle with the physical indignities that come with mortal aging, but unlike most mortal women, my concern is not for what the mirror tells me each day. Beyond wishing my former muscles weren’t softening into extra unwanted pounds so fast, I don’t care how I look. Men still wanted to sleep with me, or at least the last time I indulged in online dating, that was the case. Sure, it might be nice if my knees didn’t hurt, but luckily I haven’t had to resort to replacing them with metal ones.
I try not to complain. Any Goddess of War—even an unknown one like me—should be above whining about all the body parts that ache. Truthfully, though, I hadn’t needed Zavak’s confirmation that I was no longer fit for physical challenges harder than yoga for seniors.
The Fates warned me every year on my birthday that time was now passing more quickly for everyone in my pantheon. I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it or my destined part in stopping it. But eventually I realized that no matter how mad I was at my birth father, blaming Zeus would not save me or the small number of my family I actually cared about.
I had to do something about the prophecy. I just didn’t know what yet.
My personal cell phone rang and interrupted my musing.
Getting older in the Mortal Realm had not improved the bad temper I tried to keep hidden from everyone. Everyone knew, though, that I hated being bothered when I was musing. It’s how I make a living. I may not have been born for this kind of work, but money doesn’t grow on trees outside the God Realm. It took a lot of moolah to live well in the Mortal Realm.
So, every day I shoved my goddess dreams away and spent all my time matching mortal clients with the perfect Muse.
My sisters assist mortals in becoming the god-like beings most mortals dream of being. We don’t grant them physical immortality, nor would I even if I could. Immortality is controlled by the Fates, but I’ve heard many stories about my father doling out immortality to his favorite servants. Most of those my father converted to immortals ended up having to be killed for reasons of insanity. Not that the boundaries of morality ever stopped the incredibly selfish god who helped produce me.
Despite my propensity for fighting to the death on battlegrounds, my body count remains at zero among our clients. All my clever sisters and I did was help mortals become people who mortal history would always remember. Like many gods and goddesses, fame was what those in the Mortal Realm sought beyond what was logical.
Rock stars? New York Times Bestselling Authors? Award-winning actors?
Yes, creating them was what we did, but it was a lot harder to accomplish than you might think. In the Mortal Realm, I called myself Atlanta Spears. I didn’t like my mortal name, but I’d get laughed at for calling myself Goddess Atlanta.
Since it wasn’t the office phone ringing with new business, I ignored my cell when it rang again. A couple of years ago, my powers would have told me who was calling without me having to answer it. But like my once perky breasts that now sagged because of gravity, my goddess power was losing its own battle.
Mortals considered being forty ‘midlife’ because that age represented the average middle of all the years of their brief lives. I had learned for some of them, turning forty meant they were headed to their graves. I didn’t feel that way myself, despite the reading glasses I used for reading client contracts. Anyway, the real bane of my mortal existence was that everything wrong was not my fault. No, it was my no-longer-omnipotent father’s fault.
Sure, I may have set the downward spiraling prophecy in motion while I was going through my revenge phase. But hey—newsflash for all realms—I hadn’t been the one who brought the prophecy into being in the first place. Shortly after my father got the job of being Numero Uno, he screwed up with the Fates and their mother. Or maybe he refused to screw any of them. I never got the full story. If Zeus had refused to bed any female—goddess or mortal—that would have been a unique first for my father because restraining his libido didn’t seem possible for him.
Despite my determination to ignore the caller, my cell continued to ring and ring. Only the adopted mother I loved or the loathsome father I detested dared to torture me with that kind of persistence during business hours.
I finally snatched the phone up to see which annoying parent it was. “This better be important, or you’re dead.”
“Why aren’t you answering your father’s calls, Atlanta? Zeus’s been trying to reach you for three days. You asked him to call before he stopped by. What good is setting that parameter if you don’t answer your phone so he can tell you he’s coming?”
I frowned at my adopted mother’s chastising tone more than her logic. How old did someone in the Mortal Realm have to be before they stopped getting fussed at by a parent? Surely forty should be a sufficient age for people to leave you alone. I wish I knew who I could ask these kinds of questions, but I didn’t cultivate mortal friends. If I guarded my power wisely, I would still live two or three times as long as mortals did, which meant I’d be forty for a decade or two. No, all I needed was a handbook on mortal traditions. Maybe I’d add that to my next research list.
“If Zeus is coming by just to complain about how terrible his life is, I don’t want to hear it. My life’s no picnic either.”
“Atlanta, you’re forty in mortal years now. Act like a dignified mortal adult instead of a petulant young goddess who’s still mad at her father.”
I lifted the hand not holding the phone and shook it in the air, which now vibrated with the power my anger was releasing. Only my parents could make me this mad.
“Why do you always defend him, Mother? No man that selfish could be good in bed. Zeus is a horrible, loathsome god. He killed my birth mother and foisted me off on you without a single look back over his shoulder. Am I supposed to cut him slack just because he chose not to kill me when he killed my mother?”
“The situation was far more complicated than you make it seem, Atlanta. Clotho was involved, and so were the other two Fates. All Gods have to bow to those three just like the mortals do.”
“Who do you think told me the truth? I’m quite aware of how much the Fates control our lives. Clotho visits me every year on my birthday to recite the doomsday poem about the prophecy. Why isn’t my twin sister getting a doomsday warning? None of the Fates are visiting Athena because she’d have made her ninth trip to see me simply to brag about getting that sort of attention from them.”
“Clotho’s trying to be helpful in the only way she can. You have to be the one to figure out the prophecy. That’s how prophecies work.”
“Well, not for much longer. The Fates are aging too. You know, I thought my breasts were bad, but Clotho’s breasts have practically dropped to her knees. She needs to wear a support bra instead of free boarding it in those sheets she insists on draping around her. Sheets fashioned into togas are not a good fashion statement in 2020.”
My rant and roll had too much momentum now to stop.
“And why can’t the Fates offer me something truly helpful? I have wrinkles on my forehead, and my chin is disappearing in the loose skin on my neck. Do you know why this is happening? It’s happening because I wasted my goddess abilities trying to be what other people wanted me to be. I never even got to use my powers because the almighty jerk who created me forbade me to, and you made sure I followed his rules.”
“You need to embrace the life you’ve been living and let go of the one you didn’t get to have. Feeling sorry for yourself is beneath your birthright as a goddess. I raised you better.”
I frowned and closed my eyes. The Fates convinced my adopted mother that I was some kind of fated savior of the gods, but they were wrong. I was barely saving the mortal business I created for my silly sisters so they’d have a way to feed themselves. I could have made a living as a soldier or an assassin. Turning mortal had only made the nine of them ditzier. They needed a keeper, and I’d been doing the job for most of our immortal lives. It seemed fated that I’d end up doing it for the rest of our mortal years.
Sighing into the phone, I tried to end the call on a better note. “Look… I’m sorry we keep having this same argument, but I have a right to be bitter. What memories do I have from my goddess life to keep me warm in my old age as a mortal? I’ll tell you how many, Mother—none. Athena trained as a warrior while I was babysitting nine women who can barely tie their own shoes without help. You and I both know that I’m nothing but a spare heir, and I’m not even your heir.”
“You may never see yourself as my daughter, but you’ll always be your father’s daughter. That is a fact that can never be changed.”
I ugly grunted into the phone as a typical frustrated man would. “It’s definitely a for worse situation, trust me. Athena has medals and achievements. Her temples in the Mortal Realm may be in ruins, but some of them are still standing. I had one small temple in Rome—only one—dedicated to me, and a religious group built a church over it. I didn’t dare stop it from being erected, and do you know why? Because the temple only honors my secret Roman identity, which is only slightly less invisible than my Greek one. No Greek living or dead knows that Goddess Atlanta exists.”
“Stop whining, for Gaia’s sake. Your fate was never to become a Greek myth in the Mortal Realm. We all have hard enough roles to play in actual life, Atlanta. I know because I’m Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory. I forget nothing, which is why I reminded your father two years ago that to beat the curse of mortality he’s brought down on us, he was going to have to make amends to all the females he’s wronged, including the Fates… and you. He finally believed me this week, so I need you to release your resentment and do what you were born to do, which is to fix this. Now is your time to step up. Do not spit into the wind because you’re angry. All you’ll get for it is a face full of your own spit.”
“How can my dreadful father make amends to all the females, Mother? He can’t and do you know why? Zeus can’t raise my birth mother from the dead and apologize for murdering her.”
My secret desire to kill my father for what he did to my mother was something I didn’t share with just anyone—not even the Muses who I’d practically helped raise. Only my adopted mother knew that sordid truth.
Then it hit me. “Let me guess what really happened this week, Mother. The once-mighty Zeus finally aged so much that he couldn’t get his man junk up.”
I grunted again. “Go ahead. Tell me I’m wrong.”
The silence on the other end of the call was loud, so I could hear my adopted mother’s nervous heartbeat.
Why should I bother to listen to a man who’d abandoned me to a destiny that I always knew wasn’t mine? Zeus had never cared one bit about me or my life or the emotional scars he’d given me. I didn’t consider him to be any kind of father at all, and far as I was concerned, I got along perfectly fine without him and his god-drama. I intended to go to my fully mortal grave, never caring.
“I took you in because I knew you would one day be the key to the survival of the God Realm. Zeus created it, but you’re the one meant to save it. You’re like Zeus far more than you know, Atlanta.”
“No, Mother. I’m nothing like him. All men suck. Even the one I loved.”
“The man you loved was a mortal soldier who loved his cause far more than he could ever love a female. You must accept that the past cannot be changed and move on.”
“Yes, he was an exceptionally good Roman soldier, thanks to me. But Cleopatra lured him away. I get it, Mother. She won, and I didn’t—end of story. See? I have moved on.”
“No. You grieve him still, which is an enormous waste of energy over so many centuries. I don’t enjoy pointing out your petty revenge to you, but who else is there to do it? As a goddess, especially the Roman one you were pretending to be, you could have saved Mark Antony’s life if you’d wanted to. You might be happier with yourself all these centuries later if you’d helped him live out his brief mortal life. But you didn’t do that, Atlanta. You manifested the worst possible destiny with a lover, which is why you had to watch him die in another woman’s arms.”
“You’re wrong. I tried my best to save him. Mark informed me multiple times that we were over. He simply didn’t want to live without Cleopatra, so I stepped out of the picture and let him die for her. Men suck and love sucks too. That’s the sad end of Goddess Atlanta’s one and only love story.”
“Everyone alive—mortal or god—is living with some mistake from the past. Trust me, I know. Regardless of how things ended with Mark Antony, it’s time to put your painful memories away. Your story is far from over, child.”
Atlanta laughed. “That’s not the truth, Mother. In the mortal realm, I’m forty and half-dead already. Stop cheerleading. It’s not helpful. Neither is reminding me that the only man I ever loved never loved me back.”
“The mortal you loved was simply the wrong person for you, Atlanta. When the right person comes along, he’ll be devoted to you.”
“Are you aware of the statistics concerning mortal women falling in love and marrying once they’re over 40? No one is coming along to love me at this age, Mother.”
“You’re being ridiculous. I still take lovers.”
“You might, but I don’t.” Oh, I used to get the urge to bed a man now and again, but I’ve lost even that now. Gaia’s retired owl and a leprechaun from a different pantheon are the only creatures who share my life. And this is all thanks to the man you’re still trying to protect from suffering the consequences of his selfish actions.
“Please, daughter… just talk to your father. Talk to him before it’s too late for all of us. If Zeus dies, all the gods die. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes, and thanks for that additional serving of guilt. It was one more thing I didn’t need today.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t better at helping you understand your life’s purpose. One day you’ll thank me for what I’m telling you now.”
“Okay. Sure. Someone just came into the office, Mother. Talk to you soon,” I promised before quickly disconnecting.
I was forty in mortal years and looked it. My adopted mother was one of the original gods, so her power was hanging in there better than the gods and goddesses of my generation. Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory, looked no more than fifty, and some days lately, she looked way younger than me.
My adopted mother kept an assortment of men in her life who willingly entertained her when she was in the mood for a bed partner. She never lacked for male company that I could ever remember. Gaia knew, when the nine Muses were still small children, I did a lot of babysitting during Mother’s evenings out.
If she’d moved on from her past, why was she always defending Zeus, who’d got her knocked up with nine babies and then merrily moved on to fill up the next womb he found empty?
Putting my face in my hands, I groaned at the unfairness and the craziness of my family. There was nothing sadder than a forty-year-old mortal woman who couldn’t stop feeling sorry for herself, except maybe an aging goddess losing her power.
“First order of business today is that Cale Drakon recently decided that he wants to become a poet.” I paused in my explanation to glare at my nine groaning siblings.
My gaze narrowed as it took in the entire conference table and all the aging females who sat at it. Though born at the same time through some sort of magical c-section I hadn’t been allowed to observe, each of the nine Muses appeared as a unique mortal woman in their early thirties. Each Muse’s clothing choices reflected what age she considered herself, a circumstance which sometimes challenged the professional atmosphere I worked so hard to create and maintain. When a new line or wrinkle appeared, my no boob or butt-cheek flashing rule got strained to the limit.
“Do I need to remind you that good wrinkle creams are not cheap, not even when we buy in bulk? I may be forty in mortal years, but all of you are only a few years behind me. I know you all think Mr. Drakon is an epic nerd, but the man pays his bills on time. So, if he wants to become a poet, then using the power of your ancestors, one or more of you will turn him into one. Are we clear on the matter?”
“Technically, Atlanta, you’re way older than we are—like a whole missed childhood older from what Mother said,” Tally pointed out with a smile. “She said you were born from Daddy’s head splitting open and that you grew up in a single day. The nine of us were all born as babies, and she said we took many years to grow up. Think about it. For all we know, you could be really, really old—like sixty in mortal years.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to spill the truth, but I’d promised Mother never to tell them. Between immortals, breaking a promise was the surest way to lose your powers for a century or two. The Fates always monitored everyone and knew everything, so I said nothing to correct my younger siblings’ misconceptions about my birth.
The myth applied to Athena’s birth too, but no one even knew she’d been a twin. Zeus kept his other gazillion children completely in the dark about me, which gave me one more reason to hate him. But I also hated that the sisters I had to see all the time believed some ridiculous lie about Athena and me springing full grown from my father’s stupid head. I mean, Gaia forbid nine grown-up goddesses to find out their father murdered the owner of the womb that carried two of his most powerful children.
I held Tally’s amused gaze until she looked away. They knew better than to try to win. “You may be the Muse of Comedy, Thalia, but mythology is not a laughing matter. For everyone in this room, it’s actual history. Maybe you need to keep that in mind.”
Tally lifted a shoulder. “What can I say? Your reaction is always funny. You’re so tense all the time. How many centuries has it been since the unforgettable Mark Antony died and left you lover-less? I forgot when Rome conquered Egypt. Memorizing dates of things that happened in the Mortal Realm was never my thing.”
My adopted sisters—well, technically half-sisters—weren’t the deepest thinkers in our gene pool outside of their work, but killing even one of them was out of the question. Yes, killing Tally was my first instinct when she insulted me and my poor dormant libido. Fortunately for my irreverent sibling, I’d gotten a lot of practice in the Mortal Realm at not giving in to my destructive urges. Since I wasn’t born a Muse, I needed all nine of my sometimes thoughtless siblings to keep our business thriving.
So instead of killing Tally, I restricted myself to glaring when the rest of my sisters laughed at her mean teasing. But I seriously gave that glare all I had. They were lucky I had thick skin. Ignoring my sisters’s shared amusement over the deep emotional pain I still carried around, I moved on to handing out our other assignments.
“Callie and Era, the poet’s job will go to one or both of you. Mr. Drakon’s email didn’t say what kind of poetry he wanted to write or why he got the sudden urge to be creative. I want you both to meet with him next Monday during his appointment. Afterward, we’ll decide which of you best fits his needs or if it needs to be a team effort.”
I checked the rest of my job sheet despite everyone in the room grumbling and hissing at each other over work. I was used to dealing with dissension when it came to Muse assignments. My war training came in handy at times like this. My sisters owed their lives to Zavak’s training and the practice I got working with the Roman Legion.
“We have an opera singer for Terri to work with and a dancer for Twerky to inspire.” I lifted my gaze to stare at Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance. “Ms. Davis does ballet, Twerky. No teaching her dry-humping moves. Ms. Davis better be as graceful as a swan when you finish with her.”
Twerky didn’t argue with me because embarrassment was her preferred form of rebellion. She stood up and made a few jerky moves with her hips to make her sisters laugh. Trying to get a bunch of muses to be serious for over fifteen minutes was nearly impossible. Shaking my head in resignation, I hurried to finish before the rest lost focus.
“Urania is off next week.”
“It’s for research. I’m going to Greece to watch a meteor shower,” Urania explained to the inquiring gazes suddenly directed her way.
I looked at the far end of the table. “Last but not least—Mellie and Clio are manning the front office and finishing the research I gave them. Excuses and delays will result in them being omitted from the next distribution of cosmetics and skin cream.”
“That’s not fair. We’ve been looking for months already. You’re not even sure you understand the message,” Clio exclaimed.
“And you’re especially not sure it’s a tragic prophecy, so why should I be included in the research?” Mellie demanded.
I put both hands on the table as I leaned down and forward. It was my ‘end of rope’ move and my siblings knew it. Nine giggling women stopped to stare at me in alarm.
“We’re losing our powers, people. We’re aging like mortals, which means soon your faces will start melting the way mine already has, according to you crones. This means all of you will help me research whatever I need you to until we figure out what’s going on and how to fix it.”
“Maybe this is just the Fates testing us. They have a strange sense of humor,” Tally said with a grin.
I snorted as I stared at her. “Your mother is aging, Tally. Even our worthless father is aging. When Clotho visited me this year, her boobs were practically on the floor. Is this what you want to happen?”
“Listen to your older sister, girls. Atlanta’s right,” a sexy male voice said from the doorway.
My gaze shifted to the intruder. Mother was right. My birth father’s once dark hair was now heavily streaked with silver, and his face was more wrinkled than I recalled it being a few centuries ago.
His muscles, though, looked like he bench-pressed cars in his spare time. My father was well over six-foot-tall in his normal faux-mortal appearance, which explained my six-foot-height and Athena being just a few inches shorter. Mark Anthony had been six-foot-six. The similarities between the man I’d fallen for and my father were textbook, and that gave me yet another reason to hate myself. At least Mark had left me for the sake of genuine love instead of just to roll in the sheets with a new stranger.
“Daddy!” all nine Muses happily squealed before bounding from their seats to go hug him. I watched them hugging and cuddling with disgust. How ironic was it that the Goddess of Memory had forgotten to tell me that Zeus was stopping by whether or not I called him back?
“I need to talk with Atlanta alone for a bit,” Zeus said as he touched all nine smiling faces with loving fingers. “Why don’t you girls run to the coffee shop down the street for a break? Bring me back a double espresso and get a decaf for Atlanta. Your sister needs no more caffeine today. She seems a little tense.”
Nine girls giggling might sound like part of a hokey winter holiday song, but to me, it meant all our work was done for the day—and maybe even tomorrow if Zeus stuck around.
I promptly decided the nine of them were getting the travel size wrinkle cream the next time I placed a bulk order. No full sizes or super sizes for any of them until they started pulling their weight.
“I’ve been trying to get in touch with you, Atlanta,” Zeus said, breaking the quiet that descended after all nine Muses left to fetch him coffee.
I gathered up my computer tablet, my pen, and my hand-written notes about clients. “Wow, I didn’t realize you knew my actual name. I thought I was simply not-Athena.”
My father gave an exaggerated sigh as he walked to sit at the abandoned conference table. I didn’t give a flip if I’d hurt his feelings. Why should I? He never minding hurting mine.
“We’ve run out of time for sparring, daughter.”
I lifted an eyebrow at his calm, fatherly tone. Chuckling, I waved a hand between us. “This? This is not sparring. This is a meaningless conversation that accomplishes nothing, just like the other eight brief conversations we’ve had over the many centuries of my alleged non-existence.”
Zeus blew out a breath. “Still holding a grudge, I see. I guess becoming mortal hasn’t softened your edges. I understand that because it hasn’t softened mine either. However, I hoped the mortal aging process might mellow you out a bit.”
“Not at all. Unlike most that you’ve duped, I’ve known all along that my aging is your own fault.”
I watched him look away and saw his face flush with irritation. Was my resistance to his will lightning bolt worthy? I kind of hoped so because it would give me a legitimate excuse to retaliate. We’d wipe each other out and go on to the great void where I would no longer have to worry about anything. It wasn’t exactly a death wish, but it might have been close. I was tired of dealing with all this shit and of feeling guilty for sins my father had committed.
Zeus lifted a shoulder. “I can’t help that the Fates told you. I only told Athena about the prophecy this week. Like you, I thought it was all malarkey those old witches made up. Their mother, Nyx, never did like me much. Who knows what that old bat put into motion with those crone daughters of hers?”
I gave a dry laugh and rolled my eyes. “Of course, you told Athena about the problem before coming here to see the abandoned and forgotten child of Zeus that the Fates have been visiting for years.”
“Athena has the right training and understands what’s at stake. She’s trained many champions over the years. She would be an excellent person to do what must be done.”
So might I, if I was inclined to help the selfish, manipulative man who’d created me, but only the Fates and my adopted Mother knew how capable I was. It pleased me that they never told my father about the Romans, even after they’d threatened to tell everyone if I ever got that involved with mortal warfare again. I wasn’t about to brag because I didn’t want to give Zeus any satisfaction that his genes might be the reason. Athena could have all that child glory—again and again and again.
“I’m sure my Warrior Goddess twin was more than willing to help her beloved father save the day once again. Why are you here bothering me since it’s obvious Athena’s still your first choice for everything?”
When Zeus glared at me, my scalp tingled. The power that hadn’t been present during my training session with Zavak suddenly rushed to cover my body and shield me. I was very grateful to know my conservation efforts were paying off.
“I tried to imbue Athena with my hidden powers. Unfortunately, the transfer didn’t take.”
I made a face and tried to chase the awful image from my brain. “Eww… she’s your daughter. That’s gross, even for a man with your lack of discretion. The distant cousin thing I might understand…”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Zeus demanded, his face flushing bright red. “You know that’s not what I meant. I meant that Athena’s powers and mine are incompatible. The prophecy pointed to the second child being the one with enough power to overthrow me, but it also mentioned a boy. I’ve been confused about you since you were born, Atlanta. Today, I think I figured out why. Do you prefer to bed females instead of males? Maybe that’s what messed me up when you were born.”
I forced myself to take three deep breaths before I answered. Zeus was renowned for his bad temper, which was the one thing I knew for certain I’d inherited from him. Right now, anger made me ready to sacrifice everything. I longed to show Zeus I could call down lightning and zap him from every realm of existence. I wanted to do it, even if it was the last thing I ever did.
But that would not be mature of me, and I was living a mature forty-year-old mortal woman’s life now. Last year, I’d decided to age as a mortal and to do so with great dignity. This meant I needed to react calmly and not hormonally today, no matter how fast my blood buzzed with anger whenever Zeus was near.
I lifted my chin and glared as I spat out my response. “I’m not sure being the second child by only a few seconds counts as being born second. Clotho told me I had hold of Athena’s heel as I left the womb. Did it occur to you that Athena may have charged in front of me and stole my birthright?”
Zeus grunted. “Don’t believe those old crones. There was no womb.”
I narrowed my eyes as they landed on Zeus’s stiff jaw. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m as gullible as the Muses just because their mother raised me. The Fates told me the truth about what happened the first time they came to visit. Are you saying the Fates lied to me, Father? Can I tell Clotho about your born from my head story next time she comes to recite the doomsday poem to me?”
Zeus lowered his gaze. “That story is a harmless fabrication that spares our people from knowing the Fates are not kind.”
“Or it’s simply the bald lie of a killer trying to cover up an ancient murder that’s come back to bite him on the old keester.”
“I took her life, but I did not murder your mother…” Zeus stopped.
I could see him counting to ten. I did it often myself. “Yes. You did.”
“You are not a dutiful daughter,” he said.
“I’m not a gullible daughter either.” I paused for dramatic effect. “Let’s move on to the next point of contention. I’ve always preferred men. I’m not a lesbian simply because I’m older, still single, and have never been in a long-term relationship that lasted. That’s a cheap shot coming from someone who’s never been able to keep his man parts in his own pants for over five minutes, not even after he got officially married to the hottest goddess in any realm.”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you, Atlanta. It’s just that every minor detail counts when it involves a prophecy about our future.”
Zeus picked lint off his expensive shirt as if he hadn’t heard my insults about his adulthood.
“You look like a boy in those pants and tunics you wear, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with full makeup on. How was I supposed to know you liked men? How could anyone know your preferences? I bet you get propositioned by far more women than men.”
He was wrong, but I didn’t owe him any explanation. Instead, I grunted with all the pent-up indignation I possessed just to irritate him. “If you’re finished insulting my appearance, my sexuality, and how I express my gender, I’m going home for the day. There’s not much else to do when all my workers are out fetching you a coffee, like good little daughters.”
“I’m your father too, Atlanta. You will also do as I say. You will stay here and talk to me until we are done.”
I fought not to use the last of my power to call my favorite spear. “You may be my father by an accident of birth, but I barely know you. And what I know, I don’t like. If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to call Hera and tell your goddess wife that you’re visiting your long-lost second-born daughter behind her back. I bet she’d love to know you’ve been keeping my existence a secret from her all these years.”
Zeus threw back his head and yelled in frustration. When he brought his head forward again, his eyes sparked with lightning. The walls of my office building trembled. Truthfully, most gods would have been afraid for their lives. Maybe I should have been afraid too, but I simply wasn’t. I hated his guts, so his frustration delighted me. My own eyes sparked with lighting too when I was good and mad. I hoped they were sparking now.
Zeus slapped his hands on the conference table. “You want to hear me say it? Fine. I was wrong, Atlanta. I was wrong to want you to be a Muse when that wasn’t your true calling. But I’m not wrong in coming to you now. I’ve exhausted all other possibilities. You must be the child of the prophecy. Admit I’m right and take the power the Fates put in me for you. Your chosen champion has nine tasks to complete, and time is running out to get them done. If you don’t find him soon and help him get those tasks done, it’s going to be too late for all of us.”
I couldn’t stop myself from smirking. Now he needed me, but the joke was on him. I didn’t care. “Once, I was every bit as strong as Athena. To be part of your life, I would have done anything you asked of me, no matter how selfish or evil. Now I’m simply a forty-year-old, mostly mortal woman who has to live with a roommate in the Mortal Realm. If I miraculously save our pantheon from becoming completely mortal, I’ll let Mother know, and she can pass on the big news to you. But I don’t want your reluctant help. Stay out of my life. That shouldn’t be too difficult for you since you’re such a pro at not caring about me.”
“Atlanta, I’m asking you not to make me beg. I don’t beg well,” Zeus warned.
I glared for all I was worth. “Are you not hearing me? I hate you and everything you stand for. I’ll work with the Fates. I’ll work with Mother. I’ll work with any other creature that exists, but I will never, ever work with you. You’re too late in trying to make amends with me. You mean less than nothing to me now, which I guess finally makes us even. Go away and leave me alone before your death becomes the first thing I do to save us all.”
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