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Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

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Muse No More

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LENGTH: 92,249 words, 409 pages

Yes, I’m guilty of the same sins as the rest of my pantheon, but was it necessary for an entire task of the prophecy to be about me making amends? 

With four tasks of the Doomsday Prophecy solved and five more to go, I need time some time off to rest and recharge before tackling task five. My goddess power is dwindling daily. Signs of mortal aging are warning me that my goddess days may be nearing their Mortal Realm end.

Should I admit failure to the Fates and beg for help from them? That’s never happening. Or at least it’s not happening until I’ve run out of other options.

I’m not sure what other goddesses would do in my situation, but I’m taking my dragon champion and heading to Rome for a break.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just tired. So what if I can’t make a portal and have to ask a magical friend to do it for me? A visit to my secret treasure vault in Rome will hopefully be worth swallowing that much of my pride. 

My mortal sins are few. My goddess sins are many. Maybe a walk down memory lane is long overdue.

AUTHOR NOTE:  This story is both paranormal (think Dark Fairies, Pegasi, and Dragons) and women’s fiction (think issues of aging). Many fantasy and romantic elements are also included. This is the third book in the Nine Heirs and a Spare series which has its roots in Greek mythology. You can count on the good guys (or rather good women) winning some of their battles, but that’s the only promise I can make. As with all my work, there will be some good laughs along the way. 

Chapter 1

“Why are we at the office? Couldn’t we do this from home?”

Cale sat on my office floor playing with the puppies to keep them entertained while we waited. Normally, I would have been freaked by Cale referring to my mother’s house as home, but today I was freaked about much bigger things. I discovered this morning that I couldn’t transport myself to the office, much less Cale, the puppies, and Night who was sliding his owl body along the back of my client chair because he was bored. 

“Zavak’s portal opens here. He insists on controlling when I use it—not just me, but all his trainees. It’s his way of maintaining his privacy and not having a bunch of us randomly appearing in his space.”

Cale looked thoughtful and then nodded. “I can see that. Are you okay today? You seem concerned, which is not something you do often. Mostly you charge ahead and just get stuff done.”

I suppose it made sense that the main man in my life would figure me out. “Just trying to conserve my energy today. That’s why I asked Petal to make a portal for us this morning.” Well, conserving was one of my reasons.

“I could have called us for a ride to the office. The service I use will transport pets too.”

Night rotated his head more than halfway around to blink his black owl eyes at me before he rolled them. I shook my head and frowned to keep Night from lecturing Cale on why taking our magical menagerie of animals anywhere in a mortal vehicle would be a terrible idea.

“The hellhound puppies aren’t trustworthy enough yet,” I said, latching onto my easiest excuse.

Cale chuckled as he hard-rolled Moose across the floor to show the pup who was still the alpha animal in the room. Moose wanted to believe it was him. Demon watched with curiosity and looked like he was smirking. I was secretly glad Cale wasn’t letting Moose get too full of himself. Dealing with an arrogant demonic hellhound was the last thing I needed. My life was crazy enough.

“I keep forgetting they’re not just cute little dogs,” Cale said.

He wasn’t the only one. I kept forgetting about it too. Then I’d remember what had to happen in order for me to keep them from hurting someone… or eating the wrong person or thing. Night said they had picked up hunting faster than he’d expected. Gaia only knew what that meant. I’d been too mentally exhausted to ask a ton of questions.

“I grew up around their father. When I look at them, I see Cerberus only with fewer heads. Once you meet him, I think you’ll understand the puppies better.”

At the mention of their father, the puppies stopped playing, whined, and then lay down with their heads on their paws. They were still babies and obviously still missed both their parents. 

Were they even ready for what I had in mind?

“They miss their father a lot,” Cale said with sympathy. 

In the big picture, I knew my Uncle Hades was right about Demon and Moose not fitting into the Underworld. But seeing them grieving like this over a father they barely got to meet made me see red. I wanted to make my uncle pay for not being understanding of their needs. They were babies, for Gaia’s sake.

I could feel myself getting worked up, which wasn’t a good idea, so I pushed my sympathy away. Zavak would be opening the portal soon. If he didn’t say yes to my idea, I could kiss my trip to Rome goodbye and would have to come up with a Plan B for the puppies. 

I needed to stay focused on what I was willing to pay Zavak and how to get him to agree.

But then I looked at the sad puppies again and my heart jerked in my chest. “As soon as all nine tasks are behind us, we’ll set something up so Cerberus can visit them on a regular basis. He can change his appearance when he wants, at least for a short time. Maybe Cerberus can teach Demon and Moose’s brothers to do it too, so they can tag along. I’d be willing to deal with them all for an afternoon now and again. Once I buy the right piece of land, I could designate part of it as a hellhound dog park. They need a safe space away from the Muses and Mother to practice their abilities.”

Cale laughed as he got to his feet. “You sound like a soccer mom trying to find a place for her kids to practice sports at home.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Some women are born with a maternal gene, but I didn’t get it. Instead, I grew up fast and was an angry teenager by the time the Muses were born. I did the best I could to help my adopted mother raise my adopted siblings, but the best I could do was keep them alive. At least they were goddesses like me so I understood them. Puppies are a whole different challenge.”

“You take good care of Night,” Cale pointed out.

His praise made me laugh. “I don’t think providing a completely sentient owl with the occasional piece of fresh meat counts as caring for him. Night mostly takes care of himself. He comes and goes like a roommate, and I don’t worry about him. Honestly, Alastor has required more care than Night or the puppies.”

“Your Pegasus is healing from severe trauma. ”

“I don’t consider Alastor mine. We’re just… friends.”

“Alastor thinks of you as a kindred soul. You both visited Otherworld and came back scarred from the trip.”

I refused to think of myself as scarred, but I did often think about how helpless I’d been in the castle’s dungeon. Didn’t it count that I was back to sleeping in my own bed without a naked Cale wrapped around me? I thought it counted. 

“I hope you’re right about Alastor healing. Poor guy. And I seriously hope he never goes back to Hades. I can’t imagine my uncle treating him well.” 

Alastor stayed with Cale’s family after we got home from Otherworld. Wizard hung out with Alastor now and the two of them did male bonding stuff all the time—like racing each other across the field and mock-fighting to impress the six mares Cale’s family purchased.

“Are we bringing the Minotaur back with us? He’d fit right in with all the other magical creatures in our zoo.”

Cale snickered when I glared at him. He couldn’t be that stupid. Well, he could, but I seriously hoped that wasn’t the case. “If you’re going to be dumb enough to call Zavak an animal, you deserve what he does to you.”

“Are you saying a Minotaur is not an animal?”

I snorted. “A Minotaur is a special kind of demigod. Zavak’s a man like you with some animal features. In the Mortal Realm, someone like Zavak might end up working in a circus or for a freak show. In the God Realm, Zavak’s the kind of friend you want when other people are bullying you. Only a thousand or so Minotaurs were born throughout the history of the God Realm. The ones who didn’t get killed by crazy mortals are still alive because they’ve outlived the gods.”

Cale grinned. “I see where you’re going with this. No ‘where’s the beef’ jokes allowed around him, right?”

My eyes narrowed to slits. “I think I’ve changed my mind about bringing you with me. The whole apex predator thing seems to have gone to your head. Zavak is like family to me and I’m going to see him to ask him for a huge favor. Don’t try to be funny with him.”

A still grinning Cale gave a shrug. “Okay. I’ll behave. I promise.”

But his wicked laughter after that did not reassure me.

***

When the portal opened, the puppies bounded through it with no fear about what might be waiting on the other side. “Night, come on,” I yelled as I jumped through as well. 

On the other side, I nearly landed on the puppies who’d braked to a halt at the sight of a giant bull-man. Cale leaped around me to keep from landing wrong as he followed us all through and nearly hit my back. 

The puppies backed up with each of them trying their best to hide behind one of my legs.

Cale looked down at them. He scooped each pup up with one hand and held them in his arms. “Dudes, relax. He’s friendly.”

“Thanks, Cale.” I was getting used to having that extra set of hands around that my accidental champion always seemed so willing to loan me.

“Atlanta,” Zavak said, smacking one of his giant fists into the flat palm of his other hand.

“Zavak,” I said, mirroring his greeting by putting a fist to my palm. 

Then I broke through the politeness and walked over to him for a hug. Zavak’s enormous bulk wrapped around me. He towered over me more than Charon. Only two males in my life gave me a sense of being safe when I was near them. Zavak was the first. Cale ran a close second. 

“I’ve missed you, Zavak,” I said from my heart.

Zavak rubbed my back as he hugged me. “I missed you as well, my little goddess rebel. Any improvement in your power issues? I heard you were half through with all the Doomsday Prophecy tasks. There’s a betting pool among the demigods about whether or not you’ll survive all nine. Thank Gaia, you’ve gotten through the first four.”

“Thank Zavak, I had excellent training,” I joked. Then I stepped back from him and sighed. “My power situation improved for a short time, but I spent most of that boost solving one of the last two tasks. At the moment, I’m feeling very mortal. I think I’m going to have to call the Fates for help.”

Zavak made a face that looked more bull than man. “Is there no other recourse than humbling yourself to Nyx’s wicked daughters?”

I laughed. The Fates hadn’t been kind to Zavak either. “I’ll let you know how desperate I get when I return from Rome. I’m going to visit my temple there and look for inspiration.”

Zavak looked around me at Cale holding the puppies. “If we’re openly talking of Rome, you must trust your companion.”

“I do trust him. My companion is also my champion.”

“Really? This is your champion?” Zavak said with a small chuckle as he peered over my head to check out Cale. 

The Minotaur towered over Cale and me. To Zavak, I was tall for a woman which he considered an advantage. Used to gods and demigods topping seven feet, I knew Zavak viewed Cale’s height as average. Zavak’s sexism was of a bullish demigod kind. 

“Rumors circulating among those left in the God Realm say that your champion is a dragon.”

“Cale is descended from a Great Beast of the Sky that I freed from a metal statue Zeus had locked him in,” I explained, taking Zavak’s arm and pulling him over. “Cale, this is my trainer, Zavak. He’s a Minotaur.”

Cale nodded. “Nice to meet you. Atlanta has told me a lot of good things about you.”

“Has she? Strange that she’s never mentioned you to me before.”

“Only because you won’t let me visit you now that I’m mortal,” I said, crossing my arms.

Zavak turned his bullish stare my way. “Because I will not be responsible for your death, Atlanta. We’ve had this discussion many times.”

I sighed loudly. “Hurt is probable, Zavak, but death is unlikely. I recently beat Athena, Goddess of War while we were sparring.”

“Goddess Athena? The Goddess Athena?” Zavak asked in surprise.

“No—some other Athena.” I laughed at Zavak’s puzzled look. “Yes, of course, Goddess Athena. My sister has been helping me with some of the tasks. The other day she challenged me to spar. When I won, I knocked her out. Your training was spot on, my friend.”

Zavak clapped for my story. “Feel better now that you’ve tasted victory over her?”

Did I feel better? Not really, but I felt completely right about having insisted on studying my famous twin’s fighting methods. “Neither of us had full goddess powers when we fought. My superior strength combined with your superior training made my victory possible. Next time we spar, I pray we will both have returned to our full strength.”

“Bragging about your skills again?” Zavak asked.

Grinning, I shook my head. “No. Bragging would be foolish. Victories are nearly always short-lived. Today if we fought, Athena would likely win. I have learned to appreciate my powers more now that I cannot rely on them to get me out of trouble. Good friends have been critical to my success.”

“That’s a life lesson all loners end up having to learn,” Zavak said before turning his attention to Cale and the puppies. “Are these my potential students?”

I knew he included Cale in his question to make my champion uncomfortable, but Cale seemed to miss the nuance. “These pups are two of the five sons of Cerberus and Sarama, a Hindu Demon Dog goddess. Uncle Hades wouldn’t let these two pups stay in the Underworld with their father because they looked too normal.”

Zavak’s gaze dropped to the ground. “Sarama. I think I know her. Her children usually have four eyes.”

“Yes, I read that about her as well. That could have been why Hades let the other three stay.”

“Did he seriously separate these two infants from their father?” Zavak bent to look at each puppy. Demon and Moose pushed back against Cale’s chest as much as they could. “These two need nurturing more than they need training.”

I agreed but I didn’t have time to nurture them. “Hades threatened to kill them so Charon offered to bring them to me. I think my uncle wanted the puppies to distract me from my tasks. His plan is working out so far because it’s impossible for me to give the pups the time and attention they need.”

“Are these your first pets?” Zavak asked.

“Unless you count Night.”

Zavak snorted, sounding like the bull he partially was, which frightened the pups further. “Does the owl know you consider him your pet?”

The owl had flown into a nearby tree and was hooting. I had no idea why. Night had insisted on coming and yet he’d flown off as soon as we arrived.

“Night is definitely not my pet. He’s more like a house guest or a roommate. Athena knows I have him now. I suspect she and Zeus sent him to me, but I haven’t asked him yet. I can’t decide if I want to know the truth.”

Zavak straightened. “You’ve been getting into all kinds of trouble lately. I thought the Mortal Realm would offer you that quiet, peaceful life you keep saying you want.”

“I do want that.”

“That’s a bunch of bull crap,” Zavak said.

Cale burst out into laughter and the puppies went frantic in his arms. He had to set them down. When he straightened and looked at Zavak, he burst into laughter again. 

Cale held up a hand and sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It was what you said… I’m just…” He drew in a few lungfuls of calming air. “Is this where you kick my butt?”

Zavak snorted again. “Show me your dragon and we’ll see.”

Cale took a few steps backward and shifted smoothly. 

“Remarkable. He really is a dragon,” Zavak said. 

Then he whistled loudly and made my ears tingle. The puppies laid down and looked frightened. Cale in dragon form fell to the ground and rolled until he was human once more with his hands covering his ears. 

“Ow, that hurts… how did you get me to vibrate?” Cale got to all fours and pushed upwards with his hands until he was facing us on his knees.

Zavak smiled at Cale. “No sacred temple is guarded more closely than I guard my training area. Yes, I guard it even against dragons who allegedly no longer exist. Consider this a warning, Great Beast, that you are never allowed to think of me as a food source.”

Even though obviously suffering, Cale laughed as he struggled to get up. 

Zavak turned and looked at me. “I can see why you like him, Atlanta. The two of you have a similar sense of humor. Isn’t he a bit young for a bed partner, though?”

I crossed my arms. “I didn’t bring Cale here to watch you torture him until he becomes respectful.”

“You didn’t? But I’m having such a good time.” Zavak whistled again. Cale, who’d barely gotten to his feet, collapsed to the ground once more. “Got any cow jokes you want to tell me, boy?”

Cale laughed once more as he got to his hands and knees again. “No. That would rude and insensitive.”

“Yes, it would be,” Zavak replied with a smirk before turning back to me. “I like him, Atlanta. He’s a very quick learner.”

I smiled at Zavak. “Can we please talk about the real reason I came?”

Zavak smiled back at me. All the metal hanging from his face lifted with the action. “My answer is mostly yes. I’ll train the little hellhounds… on one condition.”

Cale limped to my side. “He’s brutal. Now I know how you got to be so tough.”

It was simply too hard not to make fun of his misery, so I let my laughter rip. “I tried to warn you.”

“Yes. Yes, you did,” Cale admitted with a grin. He turned to Zavak. “They’re great dogs. Atlanta and I love them. Whatever your condition is, we’ll do our best to meet it.”

“Hey,” I said, swinging my gaze to my mouthy champion. “I’m the goddess here. I make the deals.”

“Sorry,” Cale said with a grin. He swept a hand at Zavak. “If you want to grovel and beg him to help, don’t let me stop you.”

I rolled my eyes at Cale before looking back at Zavak. “What’s your condition?”

Zavak snapped his fingers. In each hand, he now held a meaty bone. He stooped down and held them out while making a clicking sound to call the dogs forward. The puppies looked from him to the bones still very unsure of his friendliness. Zavak waved the bones and both dogs inched toward him. He set the meaty bones on the ground and rose to back off. 

“I just happened to have these treats for them today. That oversized feral Nordic dog escaped his realm again and ended up here. He killed one of my favorite cows before I could stop him.”

“Did you kill him back?” I asked. It would bad if Zavak had killed Fenrir. That dog played a major role in Norse mythology.

“No, I let him live. He was just doing what dogs do. It was those in charge of him that I was mad at. I paid witches to shrink him for me, and then I sent him back to the Nordic Realm in a tiny cage. The spell will wear off eventually. He’ll break the cage and hopefully any building they put him in. He’s a giant animal.”

“Do you want me to go ease the tension between you and the Nordic Pantheon? I owe you a few favors.”

Cale grabbed my arm. “I don’t think Zavak is suggesting that you kill anyone for him.”

Zavak burst out laughing, which drew our attention back to him. “The dragon really does know you. I’m impressed, Atlanta.”

I sighed, lifted a hand, and motioned for Zavak to tell me what he wanted. 

Zavak looked unsure for a moment, something he almost never was, and then his powerful gaze met mine. “I want to spend time with others like me. I’m tired of being alone and tried of consorting with people who will never understand my life. Find me some Minotaurs, preferably female ones. I’m ready for a mate.”

I’d known this being—this amazing bull-man—for literally centuries. Not once had it ever occurred to me that Zavak lacked female companionship. It had taken me becoming mortal to develop empathy for the beings I met during my goddess life. I learned the hard way that I’d lived every bit as selfishly as Gaia had accused my entire pantheon of living.

“How many Minotaurs do you know already?” I asked.

Zavak shook his head. “None. I’ve never seen one.”

“Seriously? Zero?” I asked to confirm. “How do you know they exist?”

Zavak narrowed his eyes over having to explain himself. “The Oracle of Delphi told me they did. We are a small race of creatures, but there are a few thousand of us. Most were born Minotaur. Until Priestess Pythia disappeared, I would check in with her every few years to make sure they still existed. My intention was to eventually ask the Oracle of Delphi specifically where I could find a female like myself. As I’m sure you heard, Priestess Pythia lost her prophetic abilities and had to retire. Regretfully, I waited too long to ask the important question that lived in my heart.”

And now I felt worse than I’d ever felt in my life.

I rubbed both my temples. “So you intended to ask the Oracle to help you find a female Minotaur, but now are asking me because you’re out of other options?” 

Zavak frowned and snorted. “Yes. There has been no one else to ask because the other Oracles don’t deal with affairs of the heart. If I knew who stole the omphalos stone from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, I would break them in half. Pythia never said that was her problem, but I eventually figured out that was the only thing that had changed.”

“How do you know all this, Zavak?”

“Pythia told me, of course. Solving mysteries is not in my skillset or I would have found and returned the omphalos stone.”

I scrubbed both hands over my face. The puppies were happily chewing on their meaty bones. Zavak had made his request. Now I had to come up with an answer. 

Already feeling guilty, the worst of thoughts occurred to me. “What if I try to find other Minotaurs and fail to do so?”

“You have more integrity than any god or goddess I’ve ever known. If you say you will do this for me, I know you will do it… or you will die in the effort. I can set no time limit for your success, but this is my price for doing what you want me to do.”

“Or I could just pay you, Zavak. I have gold in my temple. I could bring some back for you. I’m sure business must be down since my pantheon got evicted from the God Realm.”

“What have I had to spend money on all these years? It’s not like I have a family. The cows require little to keep them happy—just some pasture land. I sell their milk to the Nordic realm. Freya likes to make cheese from it. Truly money is not something I have need of. I could live comfortably for a couple of millennia.” 

While I was glad Zavak was financially solvent, his disinterest in money created a dilemma I had no hope of solving.

“Atlanta… I want you to find me a female Minotaur or two. I’m tired of dating females who see me as a novelty and not as a real person. Only another hybrid like myself can appreciate the challenges of my life.”

“I can see that could be the case,” I said while I looked for a way to change the subject. “Night wanted to come along on this trip to say hello. He’ll be sending the puppies through to you each day and will be there to receive them back each evening. My sisters, the Muses, will see to it that the puppies get fed while I’m away solving Doomsday Prophecy tasks.”

“You trust the owl not to eat them in your absence?”

The idea of Night eating a fellow magical made me laugh. He was far too picky about his food. I was more worried about what Night might deem it necessary to teach Demon and Moose.

“Night and I have an understanding about what prey he’s allowed to eat. I intend to impart a similar understanding to Demon and Moose. They’re babies with no control yet. That’s why I need you.”

Zavak smiled. “I’m glad to be needed. So we have a deal?”

I sighed and nodded. “Yes… we have a limited deal. I promise to try to find your people. I can’t promise to actually succeed.”

“You’ll succeed,” Zavak said with conviction in his voice. 

Chimes rang out in the air above us. Zavak didn’t seem to notice them, which told me far more than I wanted to know.

Behind me, Cale swore. I swore too, but only on the inside. What lay ahead of us concerning the prophecy was not solving Zavak’s problem with females of his own kind. My next task would be about me undoing some of the bad stuff I did in the past.

And I wasn’t talking about that accidental shoplifting incident from five years ago. I’d gone right back and paid the woman for the lipstick I’d shoved in my pocket without thinking.

No, I was talking about me having stolen the Oracle’s omphalos stone. It hadn’t mattered to me then that I’d shut down Apollo’s primary temple. My Uncle Hades had talked me into taking the stone, and at the time, I thought such an act would prove to my family how clever I was.

At no time had I considered all the various people seeking the guidance the Oracle provided. Nor did I lose any sleep over ruining Priestess Pythia’s career too. I felt bad now, but how was I ever going to make this right?

I forced myself to smile at Zavak. Confession would not be good for my soul or for my relationship with him. “Can I leave the pups here for a few days so they can get to know you? I’ll collect them after I get back from Rome.”

“Absolutely. I was just going to suggest that very thing,” Zavak said. “Leave Night as well. He’ll find plenty to eat in the woods around here.”

“Great. I guess Cale and I will be going then.” I looked toward the woods. “Night? We’re leaving. Help Zavak keep an eye on Demon and Moose.”

Night hooted back. I was used to him communicating with words to me, but I would take that as a yes.

Zavak looked so hopeful when I waved before entering his portal.

I felt like the worst goddess who’d ever lived.

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Chapter 2

When the portal opened, the puppies bounded through it with no fear about what might wait for them on the other side. “Night, come on. Our hellhounds jumped through ahead of us,” I yelled as I went through as well. 

On the other side, I nearly landed on the puppies who’d braked to a halt at the sight of a giant bull-man. Cale braked to a halt behind me. I felt his heat at my back. The puppies backed up with each of them trying their best to hide behind one of my legs.

Cale looked down at them and laughed. He scooped each pup up with one hand and held them in his arms. “Dudes, relax. He’s friendly.”

“Thanks, Cale.” I was getting a little too used to having that extra set of hands around, especially when my accidental champion always seemed so willing to loan his to me.

“Atlanta,” Zavak said, smacking one of his giant fists into the flat palm of his other hand.

“Zavak,” I said, mirroring his greeting by putting a fist to my palm. 

Then I broke through the formalities and walked over to him for a hug. Zavak’s enormous bulk wrapped around me. He towered over me more than Charon. Only two males gave me such a complete sense of being safe. Zavak had been the first, and until recently, the only one. Cale now ran a close second. 

“I’ve missed you, Zavak,” I said from my heart.

Zavak rubbed my back as he hugged me. “I missed you as well, my little rebel goddess. Any improvement with your power issues? I heard you were half through with all the Doomsday Prophecy tasks. There’s a betting pool among the demigods about whether you’ll survive all nine. Thank Gaia you’ve gotten through the first four.”

“Only because of your excellent training,” I joked. Then I stepped back from him and sighed. “My power situation improved for a short time, but I spent most of that boost solving one of the last two tasks. At the moment, I’m feeling very mortal. I think I’m going to have to call the Fates for help.”

Zavak made a face that looked more bull than man for a moment. “Is there no other recourse than humbling yourself to Nyx’s wicked daughters?”

The Fates hadn’t been kind to Zavak either. He was not their fan. I smirked at him. “I’ll let you know how desperate I get when I return from Rome. I’m going to visit my temple first and see if I have anything stored there that might boost my power.”

Zavak looked around me at Cale, who was holding the puppies. “If we’re openly talking of Rome, you must really trust your companion.”

“Yes, I do trust him. My companion is also my champion.”

“Really? This is your champion?” Zavak asked with a small chuckle as he peered over my head to check out Cale. 

My Minotaur trainer, who was close to eight feet tall, towered over both Cale and me. To Zavak, I was tall for a woman, which he considered an advantage to my gender. Used to gods and demigods topping seven feet, I knew Zavak viewed Cale’s six-foot height as merely average. Zavak’s sexism was of a bullish demigod kind. 

He pushed me away to look at me. 

“Rumors circulating among those left in the God Realm say that your champion is a Dragon.”

And demigods loved, loved, loved to gossip. 

“Yes. Cale is a Dragon. He’s descended from a Great Beast of the Sky that I freed from a metal statue Zeus had locked him in,” I explained, taking Zavak’s arm and pulling him over for introductions. “Cale? This is my trainer, Zavak.”

Cale nodded. “Nice to meet you. Atlanta has told me a lot of good things about you.”

“Has she? Strange that she never mentioned you to me before.”

“Only because you won’t let me visit you now that I’m turning mortal,” I said, crossing my arms.

Zavak turned his bullish stare my way. “Because I will not be responsible for your death, Atlanta. We have had this discussion many times.”

I sighed loudly. “Hurt is probable, Zavak, but death is unlikely. I recently beat Athena, Goddess of War, while we were sparring.”

“Goddess Athena? The Goddess Athena?” Zavak asked in surprise.

“No—some other Athena.” I snarkily replied and laughed at Zavak’s puzzled look. “Yes, of course, Goddess Athena. My twin sister has been helping me with some tasks. The other day she challenged me to spar so she could show off. When I won, I knocked her completely out. Your training was spot on, my friend.”

Zavak clapped for my story. “Do you feel better now that you’ve tasted victory over your famous birth sister?”

Did I feel better?

Not really, but I felt completely right about having insisted on studying my famous twin’s fighting methods. 

“Neither of us had full goddess powers when we fought. My superior strength combined with your superior training made my victory possible. Next time Athena and I spar, I pray we will both have returned to our full strength. Then when I beat her, we will both know I did it by my skills alone.”

“Bragging again?” Zavak asked.

Grinning, I shook my head. “Of course not. Bragging would be foolish, and you taught me that victories are always short-lived. At this moment, if we fought again, Athena would likely win. I’ve learned to appreciate my powers more now that I cannot rely on them to get me out of trouble. Good friends have been critical to my success.”

“That’s a life lesson all loners end up having to learn,” Zavak said matter-of-factly before turning his attention to Cale and the puppies. “Are these three my potential students?”

I knew he included Cale in his question to make Cale uncomfortable. As usual, Cale seemed to miss the nuanced insult dropped on him. His lack of angry response likely would prompt Zavak to step up his insult game. It was all I could not to sigh in frustration. Was it asking too much for the men in my life to get along?

I pointed at Moose and Demon. “The pups are two of the five sons of Cerberus, Guardian of the Underworld, and Sarama, a Demonic Hindu Dog goddess. Uncle Hades wouldn’t let these two pups stay in the Underworld with their father because they looked too normal.”

Zavak’s gaze dropped to the ground. “Sarama. Yes. I believe I know of her. Her children usually have four eyes.”

“Yes, I read that about her as well. That could have been why Hades let the other three stay.”

“Did he seriously separate these two infants from their father?” Zavak bent a bit to look closer at each puppy. Demon and Moose pushed back against Cale’s chest as much as they could to keep their distance. “These two need nurturing more than they need training.”

I agreed with Zavak, but I didn’t have time to nurture them. The tasks of the prophecy were taking up all my time. Putting them in training so I could keep them was the best I could do. 

“Hades threatened to kill the puppies, so Charon brought them to me. I’m sure my uncle wanted the puppies to distract me from my tasks. His plan has worked out so far because it’s impossible for me to give the pups the time and attention they need.”

“Are these your first pets?” Zavak asked.

“Unless you count Night.”

Zavak snorted, sounding like the bull he partially was, which frightened the pups further. “Does the owl know you consider him your pet?”

The owl had flown into a nearby tree and was hooting. I had no idea why. Night had insisted on coming along, and yet he’d flown off as soon as we arrived.

“Night is not my pet. Neither is the Pegasus I’m helping. They’re more like the entourage I never asked for.”

“You befriended a Pegasus since I last saw you?” Zavak asked in awe.

“In Otherworld, but that’s another long story, and we were talking about Night. Athena knows I have him now. I suspect she and Zeus sent the sentient owl to spy on me, but I haven’t asked him yet. I can’t decide whether or not I want to know the truth.”

Zavak straightened. “You’ve been getting into all kinds of trouble lately. I thought the Mortal Realm would offer you that quiet, peaceful life you kept saying you wanted.”

“Oh, I still want that.”

“No, you don’t. That’s a bunch of bull crap,” Zavak said.

When Cale burst out into unrestrained laughter, the puppies frantically fought to escape his arms. He set them down before they jumped from his hands. Then he straightened and looked directly at Zavak before bursting into unrestrained laughter again. 

I wanted to face palm but couldn’t look away. Cale doing the exact thing I warned him not to do was like watching a slow-motion car wreck taking place. 

Finally, Cale held up a hand and sucked in a deep breath as he struggled for control. “I’m sorry. It was what you said… I’m just…” He drew in a few lungfuls of calming air. “Is this where you kick my butt?”

Zavak snorted again. “Show me the size of your Dragon and we’ll see.”

Cale took a few steps backward and shifted smoothly.

“Remarkable. He really is a Dragon,” Zavak said.

Then he whistled loudly and shrilly. The sound made my ears tingle. The puppies laid down and looked frightened. Cale in Dragon form fell to the ground and rolled until he changed into a human with his hands covering his ears.

I covered my mouth with my hands to stifle my laughter. Cale deserved every bit of what he was getting.

“Ow, that hurts my entire head. How did you get me to vibrate?” Cale got to all fours and pushed upwards with his hands until he was facing us on his knees.

Zavak smiled at Cale. “No sacred temple is guarded more closely than I guard my training area. Yes, I guard it even against Dragons. Consider this a warning, Great Beast. You are never to think of me as potential food.”

Even though obviously still suffering, Cale laughed once again. A strange expression settled on his face.

Zavak turned and looked at me. “I can see why you like him, Atlanta. The two of you have the same twisted sense of humor. Isn’t he a bit young for a bed partner, though?”

I crossed my arms. “I didn’t bring Cale here to watch you torture him until he becomes respectful.”

“You didn’t? But I’m having such a good time.” 

Zavak whistled again. Cale, who’d barely gotten to his feet, collapsed to the ground once more.

“Got any cow jokes you want to tell me, boy?” Zavak asked.

Cale—the idiot—laughed once more as he got to his hands and knees again. “No. Those kinds of jokes would be rude and insensitive.”

“Yes, they would be,” Zavak replied with a smirk before turning back to me. “I like him, Atlanta. He’s a quick learner.”

I smiled at Zavak. As entertaining as his chastisement of Cale was, I needed to get to the point. “Can we please talk about the real reason I came?”

Zavak smiled back at me. All the metal hanging from his face lifted with the action. “My answer is mostly yes. I’ll train your little hellhounds on one condition.”

Cale limped to my side. “Now I know how you got to be so tough.”

My twisted sense of humor mentally jabbed me in the ribs and pointed at Cale. It was simply too hard not to make fun of his misery, so I let my laughter rip. 

When I got a breath, I said, “Don’t look at me for sympathy. I tried to warn you.”

“Yes. Yes, you did,” Cale admitted with a grin. He turned to Zavak. “They’re great dogs. Atlanta and I love them. Whatever your condition is, we’ll do our best to meet it.”

“Hey,” I said, shifting my full, and now sober, attention to my mouthy champion. “I’m the goddess here. I make the deals.”

“Sorry,” Cale said with a grin. He swept a hand toward Zavak. “If you want to grovel and beg him to help, don’t let me stop you.”

I rolled my eyes at Cale before looking back at Zavak. “What’s your condition?”

Zavak snapped his fingers. In each hand, he now held a meaty bone. He stooped down and held them out while making a clicking sound to call them. The puppies looked from him to the bones, still unsure. Zavak waved the bones, and both dogs inched toward him. 

Suddenly, I could tell Zavak was stalling. Why would he be hesitant to ask anything of me? 

He finally set the meaty bones on the ground and rose to back off. The pups looked at each other and then pounced on the giant treats.

“I just happened to have these bones today. That oversized feral Nordic dog escaped his realm again and ended up here. Fenrir killed one of my favorite cows before I could stop him.”

“Did you kill him back?” I asked. It would bad if Zavak had killed Fenrir. That dog played a major role in Norse mythology.

“No. The witches shrunk him for me, and then I sent him back to the Nordic Realm in a tiny cage. The spell will wear off, eventually. He’ll break the cage and hopefully any building they put him in. He’s a giant animal.”

“Do you want me to go ease the tension between you and the Nordic Pantheon? I owe you a few favors.”

Cale grabbed my arm. “I don’t think Zavak is suggesting that you kill anyone for him.”

Zavak burst out laughing, which drew our attention back to him. “The Dragon really knows you. I’m impressed.”

I sighed, lifted a hand, and waved for Zavak to get on with telling me what it was he wanted. 

Zavak looked unsure for a moment, something he almost never was, and then his powerful gaze met mine. “I want to spend time with others like me. I’m tired of consorting only with people who will never understand my life. Find me other Minotaurs—preferably female ones. I’m looking for a mate.”

My mouth dropped open. I’d known this extraordinary being—this amazing bull-man—for centuries. Not once had it ever occurred to me that Zavak lacked female companionship. 

Sadly, it took becoming mortal to develop a genuine appreciation for those I befriended during my goddess life. It had also taken getting a taste of mortality to show me I’d lived as selfishly as Gaia had accused my entire pantheon of living. 

Zavak was my friend and yet I’d never noticed he was lonely. I’d also never asked. The only personal conversations we had were all centered around me.

“How many Minotaurs do you know?”

Zavak shook his head. “None.”

“Seriously? Zero?” I asked to confirm.

Zavak narrowed his eyes over having to repeat himself. “I know they exist. The Oracle of Delphi told me they did. We are a small race, but there are a couple thousand of us. Until Priestess Pythia disappeared, I would check that fact with her every few years. It was always my intention to ask the Oracle of Delphi specifically where I could find females like myself. As I’m sure you heard, Priestess Pythia lost her oracle abilities and had to retire. Regretfully, I waited too long to ask the real question that lived in my heart.”

My sins in any realm were many, but now I officially felt worse than I’d ever felt in my life. 

Not only had I not concerned myself with Zavak’s loneliness, but I’d also put his matchmaking service out of business. 

Feeling guilty, I rubbed both my temples. “So, you intended to ask the Oracle of Delphi to help you, but now are asking me because you’re out of other options?” 

Zavak frowned and snorted. “There’s been no one else to ask because the other Oracles don’t deal with affairs of the heart. If I knew who stole the omphalos stone from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, I would break them in half. Pythia never told me the missing stone was her specific problem, but I figured out that was the only thing that changed. The temple stayed intact. She was the same as always. The stone was simply gone.”

My throat tightened. It was hard for me to squeeze out my question. It probably didn’t help that I was afraid of the answer. “How do you know all this, Zavak?”

“Pythia told me some of it when I offered my services to help her. However, solving mysteries is not in my skillset. If it had been, I would have found the thief, made sure he was dead, and returned the omphalos stone to her.”

I scrubbed both hands over my face. The puppies were happily chewing on their meaty bone treats. Zavak had stated his condition. Now I had to come up with my answer. 

Then the worst of thoughts occurred to me. “What if I try to find other Minotaurs and fail to do so?”

“Atlanta, you have more integrity than any other god or goddess I’ve ever known. If you say you will do this for me, I know you will do it or die in the effort. I can set no time limit for your success. Trying is my one true condition.”

“Or I could just pay you to train the puppies, Zavak. I have lots of gold in my Roman temple. I could bring some of it back for you. I’m sure business must be down since my pantheon got evicted from the God Realm.”

Zavak grunted. “Wealth I have in abundance. What have I had to spend money on all these years? It’s not like I have a family. My pet cows require little to keep them happy—just some pastureland. I sell their milk to the Nordic realm. Freya likes to make cheese from it. Truly gold is not something I have a need for more of. I could live comfortably for many millennia on what I’ve already accumulated.” 

While I was glad Zavak was financially solvent, his disinterest in money created a dilemma I had no hope of solving. “But Zavak….”

“No, Atlanta. We will not discuss other payment. I want you to find me a female Minotaur or two. I’m tired of dating females who see me as a novelty and not as an actual person. Only another hybrid like myself can appreciate the challenges of my unique life.”

“I understand why finding other Minotaurs is important to you,” I said, while I looked for a way to change the subject. 

There was silence between us until finally I broke it.

“Night wanted to come along on this trip to say hello. He’ll be sending the puppies through to you each day and will be there to receive them back each evening. My sisters, the Muses, will see that the puppies get fed every evening while I’m away solving Doomsday Prophecy tasks.”

“You trust the owl not to eat the hellhounds?”

The idea of Night eating a fellow magical made me laugh. Night was far too picky about his food. I was more worried about what Night might deem it necessary to teach Demon and Moose in my continued absence.

“Night and I have an understanding about what prey he’s allowed to eat. I intend to impart a similar understanding to Demon and Moose. They’re babies with no control yet. That’s why I need you.”

Zavak smiled. “I will train them well. So, we have a deal?”

I sighed and nodded. “Yes, Zavak. We have a deal, but a limited deal. I promise to try to find more Minotaurs, but I can’t promise to succeed.”

“I trust you. You’ll succeed,” Zavak said with confidence. 

Loud chimes rang out in the air above us. Behind me, Cale swore. I swore too, but only on the inside. I knew something about this situation that Cale didn’t know yet. 

What lay ahead of us concerning the prophecy was not simply solving Zavak’s problem with finding females of his own kind. The next task of the Doomsday Prophecy would be for me to undo some of the bad things I’d done to people in my past. 

And I wasn’t talking about that accidental shoplifting incident from five years ago. I’d gone right back and paid the woman for the lipstick I’d carelessly shoved in my pocket without thinking. People do that all the time. Right?

No, I was talking about me having stolen the Oracle’s omphalos stone. 

It hadn’t mattered to me back then that I’d shut down Apollo’s temple by doing so. My Uncle Hades had talked me into taking it, and I thought such an act would prove to my family how clever I was. At no time did I consider all the various people seeking guidance from the Oracle of Delphi to improve their lives. Nor did I lose any sleep over ruining Priestess Pythia’s career choice of serving my half-brother. I hadn’t known either of them when I took the stone Apollo gave her.

There was no swear word capable of expressing my turmoil. How was I ever going to make this right?

I forced myself to smile at Zavak. 

Confession would not be good for my soul or for my relationship with my trainer and friend. Zavak wanted to break the omphalos stone thief in half. Since I knew he was quite capable of doing so, and I still wanted to live, this was a major problem.

“Can I leave the pups here for a few days so they can get to know you? I’ll collect them after I return from Rome.”

“I was going to suggest that very thing,” Zavak said. “Leave Night as well. He’ll find plenty to eat in the woods around here. He can help me with your hellhounds.”

“Great. I guess Cale and I will go then.” I looked toward the woods. “Night? We’re leaving. Help Zavak with Demon and Moose while we’re gone.”

Night hooted back. I was used to him communicating with words to me, but I wasn’t feeling up to arguing about his sudden insistence on owl speak. Wanting badly to get away from Zavak, I took his hoot as a yes.

Zavak looked hopeful when I waved to him before entering the return portal that he created for us.

His innocent smile made me feel like the worst goddess who’d ever lived.

Chapter 3

Petal and Stem traveled with us to Rome through the portal she created for us. She informed me they had reservations for dinner in the city. I didn’t ask questions about their plans. Annoying the one person I currently could trust not to tell the world that I was struggling with my powers would not be a good idea.

The Sprite’s portal had dropped us in the middle of the cobblestones of the Piazza della Minerva just outside the Grand Hotel de la Minerve where Cale and I would spend the next few days. If anyone noticed our sudden arrival out of nowhere, they pretended otherwise. I preferred to believe that Petal used her magic to cloak us from others passing by.

We said our goodbyes to our Sprite friends before heading to check in at the hotel. Our rolling luggage jostled over the stones as we found our way inside.

Cale had insisted on making the hotel reservations which turned into him booking a suite for our entire stay. The room was old world lovely with all its antiques. Someone modernized the bathroom. They’d covered the massive bed dominating the sleeping area in luxurious pillows and soft duvets of multiple calming shades. 

Everything in the suite—right down to the brass lamps—was polished. The room smelled of lemon oil and something distinctly Roman that I’d never identified during my travels here. 

Truthfully? I’d nearly forgotten how relaxing Rome could be when gladiators weren’t bloodying up the Coliseum. A daily dose of death ruined the city’s ambiance for me. Exposure to war deaths was hard enough. I didn’t need more death on my previous days off.

When I lived in the God Realm, I’d treated Rome as my secret stashing place. I almost never took time to enjoy it when I visited. I only took time to enjoy the Roman general I was sexing every chance I could get.

Over the years I remained away from it—after the Fates intervened—I honestly hadn’t noticed or cared that the city had grown and changed with no benevolent goddess intervention. 

Guess I didn’t really care today, either. What I wanted was to put the past behind me, especially after discovering that in stealing the omphalos stone from the Oracle of Delphi, I’d also stolen Zavak’s hope of finding a Minotaur mate.

When I broke out of my pensiveness over the past, I noticed Cale stood by the window looking out of it. He must have felt me return to the present because he turned to smile at me.

A guilty sigh slipped out. “Sorry. Rome makes my mind wander too much in the past. I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

Cale shrugged one of his shoulders. “I could see I lost you to your thoughts. This is a beautiful city. I came here with my parents once when I was in college, but that memory pales compared to sharing this with you. I can’t wait to see Rome through your eyes.”

And I couldn’t wait to get access to both my temples, but Cale’s longing for a romantic adventure stopped me from admitting the bigger part of my goals. Not that I wasn’t planning on getting horizontal with Cale, but multi-tasking was necessary.

I smiled at my patient champion. “Let’s take a walk. This hotel is really close to the Forum. We can visit one of my favorite sites there and then find a nice restaurant for dinner after.”

My two favorite sites in Rome were my temples, but he’d learn that soon enough.

I walked across the room to Cale and put my hand on his arm. 

When I visited Rome for any extended length of time, I usually stayed in one of the more modern rooms of this hotel. Cale seemed to like all the antique furniture in this suite, so I kept my true thoughts to myself about how old I found everything. Some furnishings reminded me too much of the days when taking a bath required multiple servants to carry bucket after bucket of water to my room to make it happen.

I shook my head to clear those thoughts away. Zavak’s situation had me feeling enough guilt about the past. No way was I letting antique furniture make me feel worse.

“What’s at the Forum?” Cale asked.

Grateful for the distraction, I smiled. “Le Colonnacce and the ruins of one of Minerva’s temples.”

“Wasn’t Minerva just another name for your sister Athena?”

A genuine laugh escaped me. The same old irritation I always felt followed when years and years of wrong beliefs got shoved in my face. 

The Fates had forbidden me to correct history’s wrong assumption. Since I hadn’t wanted to lose my powers, I kept my silence with the world. But I would not do that with Cale. 

“Either the winners or the most famous get to write history. Some do believe Athena was Minerva.”

Cale’s mouth tilted at my answer. “Is that your cagey way of implying that Minerva wasn’t Athena?” he asked.

I smiled widely at him for being so quick. “No. Minerva wasn’t Athena. But I know for a fact that Minerva didn’t mind the comparison. She admired Athena’s fighting skills.”

“Sounds like you knew the Roman Goddess well. Were you close friends with Minerva?”

Out popped a guilty giggle. Was I planning to come clean with Cale about who I had been? Of course, I was—but not at that exact moment. I needed a bit more time to come up with a way to explain what I’d done… and why. 

I cleared my throat. “Minerva was a busy goddess, and she wasn’t always in Rome. For example, rumors say Cleopatra was good friends with Minerva. They stopped being friends when Cleopatra lured Mark Anthony away from her.”

Cale laughed. “So, Minerva and Mark Antony were once a thing? I don’t remember reading that in history class.”

“You wouldn’t have because it was a private scandal. I bet you read Cleopatra threw Julius Caesar over for Mark Antony. I’m sure you know that the Queen of Egypt bore Caesar’s children to save her country and people.” 

Cale laughed. “True, but tell me this. Cleopatra was a real historical person in the world. Was Minerva an actual person?”

“Yes. Minerva was real, but also a goddess with a lot of secrets. No one knew Minerva very well. She kept her distance from people on purpose, especially after losing Mark Antony to an Egyptian queen. Minerva was deeply in love with him.”

So far, I’d answered Cale without lying, but I knew that wouldn’t last much longer. My champion was far too sharp. Confessing my past would not be easy, and I certainly didn’t want to do it here in the room where we might soon change our physical relationship. 

“Instead of us staying in the room and playing twenty questions about my Roman past, let’s go out into the city. Tomorrow, I have something special planned so let’s make the most of our evening.”

“First, I think I need to make something clear. Later tonight, I have something special planned. It involves you and me enjoying that colossal bed they gave us. What do you think?”

I giggled like a nervous bride as I ran my hand up his arm to rest it against Cale’s smoothly shaven face. He wasn’t being subtle about his intentions, and I didn’t care. I didn’t need to be seduced any more than I already was. All I needed was to feel right about wanting him back. Hopefully, I would get clear about my feelings before we got back here.

“Tell me about your plans for me over dinner. I’d love to hear all about them.” 

Cale’s confident mouth on mine was the perfect reply to my flirty statement. Me kissing him back? Well, that was just for fun. 

What can I say? The man had learned how to make tingle in all the right places.

* * *

We walked around Rome like two lovers on their honeymoon. I squeezed Cale’s hand before I dropped it. After that smoldering kiss back in the room, he hadn’t let go of me, and I could feel his reluctance to do so now.

I drew my attention away from Cale to stare at the ruins of Le Colonnacce and the disintegrating image meant to honor my alter ego on top of it. I grieved for the disappearing artistic evidence of Minerva and for losing proof of one of the biggest successes of my goddess life. 

Now and again, when I considered the magnitude of what I’d accomplished, I wished I’d been fighting on the side of the Greek people so I could feel proud now instead of feeling guilty. For the rest of my life, I would live with knowing the Greeks fell to the strength of the Romans because of me.

Yes, I’d lived long enough to sincerely regret what I did, but nothing would change the past. Every person who’d ever picked up a sword understood the consequences of war, but tonight, I wished it all could be undone.

Cale huffed quietly beside me. “How do you even know that decaying stone statue is really Minerva? Some of her face is missing.”

I sighed as I turned to Cale. “Because I know it’s Minerva. Doesn’t she look familiar to you?”

Cale narrowed his eyes as they roamed the stone remains again before coming back to settle on me. “No. Why? Is she supposed to look familiar? She certainly doesn’t look like Athena, so I believe you about it not being her. I don’t how anyone ever got the two of them confused. Athena wears that polished armor and rides a Pegasus. Minerva seems way more subdued.”

How could I be surprised by Cale not noticing that Minerva looked like me? Every statue showed me wearing some butt-ugly Roman helmet covering my head and hair. None of my family recognized me in the statues either. 

I never minded, nor did I ask the sculptors to change anything. When I was living as Goddess Minerva, my goal hadn’t been to achieve fame. 

And I wasn’t always subdued. That sad look affixed itself to my face after I lost the only male I’d ever bedded and wanted to keep for eternity. I really had been in love with Mark Antony. Did his death make me more vicious? Certainly. Did it make me subdued? Maybe a little.

I blew out a breath, hoping to keep the snark to a minimum. “I’m glad you decided Minerva wasn’t my sister. History should thank you for making the comparison and discovering the truth.”

Goddess Minerva had fallen out of fashion quickly here in Rome after she left the battlefield—I mean, after I left the battlefield. Minerva’s disappearance from among the Legion troops started Rome on its eventual decline as a culture. 

Mortal history righted itself in a brief span of time, as it always did, with no pantheon performing their selfish intervention.

I dreaded telling Cale the truth. To stall a little longer, I tried something else to prompt Cale to figure it out for himself. If he guessed correctly, then I’d have to confess and own my mistakes. Right? It was reverse psychology—I think.

“Did you ever read any mythology about Minerva?” I asked.

Cale thought for a moment before answering. “I read a little. She supposedly led the Romans into battle against the Greeks.”

“And the Roman Legions nearly conquered the world with her help.”

Cale smirked. “Are you saying Minerva was a villain goddess?”

I chuckled over that idea. The Greeks had certainly viewed me that way. The Romans had seen me as their savior. When it came to women with power, one people’s Eve was another’s Lilith. That dilemma was as old as time.

“Well, Minerva didn’t think she was a bad person, but eventually, she figured out that Rome didn’t deserve to rule the entire world any more than any other group did. Once Minerva withdrew her help, the Romans began losing most of their fights.”

Cale rubbed his jaw. “What aren’t you telling me, Atlanta?”

“Oh, a lot…”

Cale reached out and pinched me. I yelped because it hurt. “What in Hades’s name was that for?”

“Making me guess something when I have no clue what it is or why you’re making me work so hard for it.”

I rubbed my arm and moved away from him. If Cale pinched me again, I was going to use all my human skills to kick his big Dragon butt, because I knew his human side would never have dared pinch me. The need to conserve my power was all that was saving him.

“Have you ever done something evil, Cale?” The moment I uttered the words, I also groaned and chuckled. I shook my head as I looked at him. “Never mind. I forgot who I was talking to for a moment. Let me rephrase my question. Have you ever killed anyone?”

Cale crossed his arms and smirked. “Not in cold blood for terrible reasons, but I know I killed a few Troll guards in Otherworld. I would have killed more to save you.”

I scrubbed my face. I’d forgotten about the Trolls. “Killing the Trolls doesn’t count because that was a heated battle with the bad guys. And you did save me, Cale. Never doubt that.”

“Are you trying to make a point, Atlanta? Because I’m not getting it.”

Both my hands waved high in the air as I blew out a breath. “Yes. What I’m trying to confess to you is that I have killed people. I’ve killed many people over the centuries. Being a warrior goddess… well, killing was my thing, and I was good at it.”

“Okay,” Cale said, as he shrugged. “Are you warning me I’m lusting for a killer? Should I worry that you’ll kill me if the sex is bad?”

I snorted. Gaia bless young men and their one-track minds. “Now you’re being ridiculous.”

“Which is the pot calling the kettle black,” Cale said. Then he grinned. “Let me guess. You were mad at your famous Greek father and sister, so you made friends with their Roman enemy on purpose. You fought alongside Goddess Minerva and no one in your family knows you took that walk on the dark side.”

My sigh echoed off what was left of the stone columns. He was close, but no one was going to hand him a cigar yet. Even Cale couldn’t see me being a full-blown traitor. Yet I had to tell him I once had been one.

If the fifth task involved me having to make amends, my enemies might jump at any chance to get even. Cale couldn’t protect himself if he didn’t know what was happening. He deserved to know the truth.

Cale uncrossed his arms, laughed, and put his hands on my shoulders. “Atlanta, you’re a mostly good person. So am I. But I’m a Dragon and you’re a goddess. Neither of us is normal nor wholly human. Right after we started all this, I had to let go of my ideas about normal. And I realize that life has changed significantly over all the centuries you’ve been alive. It pops up in your conversation all the time. What’s all this really about?”

I stood among the remains of my original temple with Cale’s hands on me. The truth was suddenly too much for me to hold inside any longer.

“Cale, I was Minerva. I mean… I am her. I’m the Roman Goddess carved into this temple. The Romans once carved a lot of statues of me. There are very few left.”

I expected Cale to turn away in disgust. Instead, he let go of me to laugh. 

“Why in Gaia’s name is that funny?” I asked, stumped by his reaction.

Cale finally quit laughing long enough to stare. “If you look up the Greek gods online, you’ll always find an equivalent one that was Roman. It was a cross-culture thing. You’re telling me that in your case, Minerva was you and not Athena.”

I frowned. “That’s right.”

“Got any proof?” Cale asked.

“Proof?” The word stuck in my throat. Was he freaking kidding me? “You have my word. Have I ever lied to you?”

“Yes. Me and every other person who came through the door of your business. Your business card does not say Goddess on it—or Minerva. I’m not saying you’re a habitual liar. I’m just saying this is a lot of trouble to go through for a joke.”

I rolled my eyes to keep from rolling his disbelieving ass in the dirt covering my temple ruins. “You didn’t believe me even after I told you what I was. People have a hard time believing gods and goddesses exist. You know they don’t always get the story right about who is who in mythology.”

Cale pointed a finger and grinned. “Ah ha! This is why I need proof.”

I threw up both my hands. “Like what kind of proof?”

He pointed at the shambles. “Was this really your temple?”

“One of them,” I answered.

“You can’t store anything here. There’s nothing left of it.”

I crossed my arms. “Above ground it looks bad, but there’s a storage area below the surface. There’s only one thing in it. Another god created the item and imbued it with his power. Fearing our powers would clash, I moved my Minerva stuff to my other temple.”

“Really? And where’s that?” Cale asked with a smirk.

I pointed back the way we came. “Beside our hotel. Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Translated, it literally means Saint Mary above Minerva. The Romans built a church over my temple.”

Cale shook his head. “They built the church over a Temple of Isis. People writing the history about it called it the Temple of Minerva, but that was a mistake. That fact is well known.”

I blew out a breath. “In my defense, Isis hadn’t used her temple in a really long time. No one from the Egyptian pantheon hangs out in the Mortal Realm anymore. Isis abandoned the space long before I came to Rome. Why build a new temple? Hers was empty and in awesome shape. I moved my stuff in and made it my own.”

I frowned as Cale ran a hand over his face. Why was the reality of me being Minerva so hard for him to accept?

Determined, I tried again. “I told you we were going to Rome so I could visit my storage areas. You once asked me if I had any temples. Goddess Atlanta doesn’t, but Goddess Minerva does.”

“I have a hard time believing you keep stuff in temples they made to an image of a goddess the Romans created out of a local mythos to compete with all the Greeks they enslaved. If they’re your actual temples, how do you get into them?”

I turned to the remains of the temple wall. I moved the magical entrance to it every time a significant amount of decay took place. Could I get into the vault with my power so low? I sure hoped I could… and not just so I could convince Cale.

Cale’s eyes were on me as I walked to wall under my statue. My hand traveled over the stone surface until I felt the familiar tingle of magic. I’d been very careful to conserve my power in the last couple of days. I felt like I could probably get into the vault, but then what would I do with what was there? 

Last time I’d moved the omphalos stone, my powers were full and working. To move the stone now would require some serious help.

Deciding not to risk opening the pathway until I’d picked up what I needed from my other stash, I shook my head and stepped away. “We’ll open this temple after we visit the other one. This one is going to take more energy.”

“So, no proof for me today?” Cale asked with a chuckle.

“No,” I answered with a frown. “No proof for you today.” 

Unless… 

I held out my hand. “Let’s go to dinner. I know the perfect place.”

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