Genre = Paranormal Women's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

Not aMused

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LENGTH: 62,400 words approx, 250 pages

Not aMused is a paranormal fantasy women’s fiction and fantasy novel and an action and adventure tale from USA Today Bestselling Author Donna McDonald.

The eighth task of the prophecy is proving to be the strangest one yet.

Speaking of strange, Zeus is asking to come along so he can help me. He says he’s conflicted and wants to get to know me now. Only Zeus’s help consists of him trying to kill a creature I specifically, emphatically told him we were not going to kill. What kind of help is that? Not the kind I need, that’s for sure.

And Athena is on vacation. My twin is sunning herself on some tropical beach while I’m trying to convince the Gorgon Hydra that Athena created not to turn to me to stone like it did all the female Dragons. Sure, I understand that Athena’s embarrassed. Who wouldn’t be in her shoes? Instead of restoring the remaining two Gorgons back into humans, she turned them into a Dragon-headed Gorgon Hydra. I say everybody makes mistakes and that she should try again. However, I can’t really repeat what she said to me about trying again without wanting to stab her with my energy sword.

The Fates are ignoring my summons. Normally, I’d be happy they were out of the picture, but I have a ton of questions and no answers. The rest of my pantheon isn’t much better. They’ve gone back to their lives like it’s all over.

The only person not ignoring me is my birth mother, Metis, but technically she’s dead. Her ghost is keeping me company for a while because I needed someone with some Titan Witch skills. Currently, she’s the only one willing to listen to me. Guess that happens when you tethered a shade from the Underworld. I thought I’d hate her when we met, but actually, she’s not so bad.

Cale and I are tired. We’re searching for a house to convert into our own sanctuary. Athena’s not the only one who needs a vacation, but Cale and I are too busy trying to save everyone to take that kind of break. Hopefully, we’ll live long enough to close on the house. Is that too much to ask?

Chapter 1
The good news was Athena had completely moved out of Mother Mnemosyne’s house. The most favored daughter of Olympus was camped out with her grumpy father at his condo. She probably feared letting him out of her sight.

I could easily imagine Athena telling Zeus all kinds of stories about how badly he’d been treated by me and others during his memory loss days. The exact opposite was true, but Zeus remembered nothing beyond my Uncle Hades throwing the memory-erasing dust in his face.

Losing the memory-challenged version of Zeus hurt me. For a brief time, I had a real father. Now the version of the man who gave me away at birth was back and in complete charge of himself once more. The daughter he kept and raised once again hovered at his side looking for threats around every corner.

And I’d made all that happen.

Did I regret my decision to restore Zeus to his throne? No. I didn’t miss Athena and her constant bad attitude, either. Gaia knew, my life was easier without having to deal with her daily.

The only downside to Athena leaving was that Cale had moved his things back into his former bedroom. True, he treated the space more like a combination office and closet, while he slept with me in my bedroom every night.

But he’d gone back to showering again in his old bathroom.

Sure, he had a right to his own space and to some privacy, but I missed the Cale Naked Show, especially on gloomy days like today.

The list of things I needed to get done before starting the next task of the Doomsday Prophecy was long. The distraction of watching him dry off and dress never failed to lift my mood. But I understood that my small bedroom was barely big enough for me and Night.

Confronting Athena’s owl familiar was on my list. I’d taken the owl in years ago but recently realized that the timing of his appearance was pretty convenient. Now I suspected he’d been spying on me, rather than truly needing a home. I also doubted that Athena had kicked him out like he said. Zeus granted Night his sentience, then gifted him to Athena to watch her back in battles. Night had lived centuries and centuries with her before coming to me a few years ago.

Maybe I’d be the sister kicking him out this time. And I refused to think about how kicking Night out would affect his same-sex parrot boyfriend. The parrot belonged to Mother Mnemosyne, and the two were very attached to each other. Neither of those animals was my responsibility.

I had my hands full just keeping track of the hellhound puppies, who blessedly spent their days training with Zavak. My Minotaur trainer and friend gave Demon and Moose good reports daily. They’d grown again and were now the size of giant Great Danes and every bit as sleek. Barefoot, I was a good six-feet-tall and their heads now reached my waist. How large would they get?

And I was pretty sure they’d developed some sort of unnatural tracking mechanism for me and Cale. If I thought too hard about them, they showed up within a minute or two. This didn’t happen when they were in the God Realm with Zavak, but it happened constantly when they were in the Mortal Realm.

Zavak assured me they were progressing normally. For the God Realm, maybe they were, but here in the Mortal Realm the hellhounds and their developing abilities worried me.

I needed my own compound—somewhere I could put safeguards in place. It didn’t have to be the size of what I’d purchased for the Muses and Mother, but I needed some land. I mean, you couldn’t build a portal to the Underworld in the middle of a city. No, it required a forest to hide it, as well as some enchantment to disguise its power.

Princess Petal found me one mansion that looked like some celebrity had barfed purple velvet over every inch. The pool was twice as large as the house, which used up all the land. Where would the Pegasi graze when they visited? Where would I create a firepit to call the Fates?

I nixed that one fairly quickly. I didn’t have the energy or the power for an extensive renovation. I needed something ready to go. Cale and I were combining our savings for it, so we knew we had enough to buy what we wanted. I didn’t want to go all selfish-Goddess on somewhere and convince them to sell to me. I preferred to find it the normal way—the mortal way.

Today, we were supposed to see another. Petal was so happy to be helping me that I would have looked at totally unsuitable places all day long just to be in her bright, smiling presence.

The best part of the prophecy work kept turning out to be the friends I made.

But before I got to the fun part of my day, I needed to tackle the less fun part.

I needed to knock at least one task off my ever-growing list.

First, though, I needed to do a favor for a special friend.

***

I’d dropped Cale off at the Drakon compound before coming here. He’d shown me he could use his humor to control his natural urges, but since Kyril kept doing his unexpected takeover thing, I couldn’t risk bringing my Dragon with me. They were more sentiment than the creatures they resembled, but not, apparently, to Dragons who considered them walking steaks.

Of course, I was spotted by well-hidden Minotaura guards the moment I appeared next to the fountain in the center of their village. Bessie must have put someone on lookout for me because trumpets starting sounding alarms.

Over the last few weeks, I realized my Minotaur friend, Zavak, was nothing like the others of his kind. This was likely because Zavak saw no one outside the God Realm or Otherworld for years and years. That happens when you’re someone’s prisoner.

Minotaurs were strangely formal when left on their own. They went about their business, not showing much emotion about it. Like royal subjects, they bowed their heads when my gaze stopped roaming to rest on them. They considered anyone from the God Realm to be royalty. Or maybe it was because I was the second-born child of Zeus.

Athena and I weren’t exactly like the others. Ares, Athena and I had inherited most of our sperm donor’s god-like powers. But neither Athena nor Ares truly understood that I had gotten so much that I could have killed them with what I’d once possessed. Zeus’s thunderbolt continued to obey me. This meant I could have made them obey me too, but that had been nothing I’d wanted. All I’d ever wanted was to belong, but I was coming to terms with the fact that I never would.

My pantheon knew about me now. That was at least something. Few liked me, but I’d expected that as well.

My birth twin feared me enough to befriend me, which was at least a form of respect. She preferred being my ally to being my enemy.

When I got Ares to that same point of considering me an unstoppable threat to his existence, I would consider my job with my pantheon over and done.

Until then, I was going to let my hellhounds use Ares’s statue as their primary pee stop on their daily walk through the Muses’s Garden, which now had a whole set of Nymphs in residence, as well as a Satyr that my sister, Era, growled at no matter how much Pan tried to prove he’d changed.

Anyway, I hoped this short promise would not take me hours to fulfill. I’d arranged to meet Athena at the Drakon compound in a short while.

Females, even Minotaura Warrior ones, felt a need to primp themselves for the male holding their interest. I didn’t want to rush Bessie in getting ready, but I didn’t want to wait all day, either.

While I was staring at the fountain and pondering, a giant bag landed by my feet. It stirred up the dust and made me cough.

“Sorry,” Bessie said, panting.

When I stopped coughing, I looked at her and stared. Jewels adorned her giant nose ring and every ring in both ears. She’d braided only part of her hair, while the rest flowed freely around her shoulders.

“Wow,” I said as I gawked. “You look amazing.”

“This is my first time,” Bessie said, sighing over it.

I took a step back and stared some more. “First time transporting through a portal? Or were you speaking of something else?”

“Both,” Bessie said, making a sad cow face.

Her eyes drooped after the admission. I did a face palm. Virgins. I would never understand them. What were they waiting for all this time? That perfect male who deserved their physical gift didn’t exist.

Well, in Bessie’s case, maybe he did.

I thought of how nervous Zavak likely was, and the thought made me giggle. It was like knowing your brother was about to get lucky.

“You picked the perfect male, Bessie. I’m sure Zavak won’t let you down.”

“Did you not avail yourself of him?” she asked.

“Me and Zavak?” I squeaked, then burst out laughing. “No. I mean, he’s ripped and hot enough for any female. But… I never thought of him that way. I stuck to my own kind for casual encounters. The first time I fell in love was with a human. The second time, as you know, I fell for a Dragon.”

“Who was your first lover?” she asked.

I laughed at the Minotaura’s complete lack of boundaries. But since I was proud of my first experience, I didn’t mind sharing. “The Ferryman of the River Styx.”

I laughed again when Bessie’s prominent but cute nose wrinkled in distaste. “Trust me. Charon’s tall, blond, and looks like a Viking when he’s not in work clothes. He’s hot too.”

“Zavak would have been a better choice.”

“Charon happened centuries before I met Zavak. I have no regrets. Plus, Zavak is…” I couldn’t think of a socially acceptable way to tell the Minotaura female that I never got attracted to hybrid creatures. And then I remembered Cale was technically a Dragon and a human, which was about as hybrid as it got.

I face-palmed again. I did that a lot when I had to visit the Minotaurs. I settled for the vaguest answer I could give. “Zavak is too much like a brother to me. I admire him tremendously, but there’s no lust involved. That’s why I searched until I found you. He longed for you without stopping. The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Bessie nodded. “I hope I will not disappoint him then.”

“Sister, that will never happen. You’re Zavak’s first as well. I don’t think he’s ever been with a Minotaura. Just be yourself, Bessie. That’s what Zavak wants more than anything. He wants what only you can give him. He wants to be a Minotaur with a Minotaura. No one but you can give him that gift.”

Bessie pulled herself up to her full height. “Thank you, Atlanta. Your words bring me great joy. I will be all he needs. I trust I will.”

“Good. Now let’s go. Your man… uh… your Minotaur is waiting. Zavak likes to keep busy when he’s stressed. Gaia only knows what he’s done to my Hellhounds today.”

“Zavak adores you, Goddess. I think I adore you as well. You are not like others of your kind.”

“Best compliment ever,” I said as I reached up and hooked my arm through Bessie’s.

I used the other hand to open a portal.

“Does it hurt much?”

“Only for a second or two,” I said.

Truly, I had no idea if it hurt others or not. Sex hadn’t hurt with Charon. All I remembered was the feeling of relief to have him destroy that last barrier between us. I didn’t want to even think about what it might be like for a female not smart enough to choose someone they felt like that about as a lover. Unlike my chaste twin, I liked my sexual experiences, was proud of myself for picking good males, and had zero regrets.

“Portals seem so mysterious. I’ve seen them created hundreds of times, but never entered one.”

I turned to her and then laughed. “Oh, you were talking about passing through the portal?”

Jewels jangled and twinkled in the light as Bessie nodded her giant head.

“Oh… then no. Portal travel doesn’t hurt at all.”

To prove it to her, I dragged her into the swirling silver oval I’d created.

Chapter 2

The skies were clear and blue as I sat on the Drakon portico. The freshly cut grass in the yard smelled earthy and wonderful. It was the perfect day for a picnic.

Cale tagged along with me for this task, but I’d made him promise to visit with his parents and give me time alone with my Goddess of War sister.

I hadn’t told Cale about Metis yet. He’d just stopped hating Hades during the fight with Ares. I wasn’t keen for my Dragon to hate my Underworld uncle again… and he would if he knew Hades had gifted me my birth mother to torture.

I mean, the woman had tried to kill me at birth. Hades knew I was still angry. I might not approve of him all the time, but he understood me.

Revelations to Cale had to be carefully handled, especially with Kyril being able to take over. I couldn’t predict what Cale’s Dragon side might decide was appropriate retaliation for such an atrocity.

I watched Wizard gracefully land in the Drakon’s perfectly manicured yard close to the portico. Athena’s Pegasus always made sure there was plenty of room to fold his wings back in wherever he stopped.

I smiled and waved, but only Wizard neighed back at me. Athena’s gaze remained locked on the main house as she slid from the saddle.

Then her head turned toward the guest cottage where she’d stayed when she lived here. Early in the prophecy, I’d tasked her with guarding Cale’s new Dragon family when Cale and I had to be away.

Thanks to Cale and me, Dragons flew the skies once more. Thanks to Zeus’s deal with Indar long ago, they also now shifted into human. Or rather, they’d all been reborn as humans who could shift into Dragons. All of them except Indar, the original shifted Dragon whose spirit Zeus had trapped into a bronze statue for centuries.

Cale, who we now knew carried the spirit energy of the former Dragon king, struggled daily to reconcile his old mortal life with his new reality. Not that we knew what that was yet.

The Fates weren’t dropping any hints. Gaia’s Gardner, one aspect of the Great Mother of All, informed me that my destiny was connected to the Dragons. But she also declined to give me details that might help me understand what that might entail.

On the last quest, I’d learned that nothing Gaia said about the future was carved in stone. Like every philosopher ever born, she cited the ‘free will’ argument. Rather, she said the future was like being pointed in a single direction. You could fight that direction for thousands of years—as I had done avoiding my responsibilities to my pantheon—or you could give in gracefully and let her minions help you get there.

However, my future among Dragon kind would have to wait to be pondered. I had too many other issues clamoring for attention.

Today, I intended to knock the biggest and most shocking task off my to-do list—if I could ever get my twin sister’s attention.

Over the past few months, Athena had mastered the art of ignoring me. Today she hadn’t bothered to even wave in my direction when she arrived. And I know she saw me on the portico.

Swallowing my irritation, I strode out onto the grass intending to forcefully greet my birth sibling, the famous Goddess of War, whether or not she wanted my greeting.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I actually walked out into the yard because I wanted to pet Wizard. Athena simply was there with him.

Today, I couldn’t afford to be rude back and make her angry. What I had to share with was going to be hard enough without my revelations starting with an outright fight over her lack of manners.

But still… Athena was being stupid to pretend she didn’t miss Indar, when clearly she did. In the end, my true Goddess self rose inside me in protest, and I couldn’t resist pointing it out.

“Your Dragon isn’t here, Athena. The Drakons refuse to tell me where Indar went. They’re pretending not to know, but maybe they honestly don’t. I can feel he’s not here, so it’s not like they’re hiding him.”

Athena’s head whipped around. “What are you going on about now, Atlanta? I wasn’t looking for anyone.”

My mouth fell open. Only one of my own kind could provoke such shock in me. It wasn’t the first time I’d confronted the fact that I was risking my life to save people I mostly detested and could never see genuinely liking.

But saying that wouldn’t help my situation. I was stuck with using my sharp humor to keep from hating the woman I’d shared a womb with.

“Right… you are such a freaking liar,” I exclaimed, getting a good laugh at the shock on her face. “Ares threw you into the Muses house and knocked your ass out, girl. Your Dragon carried you to Apollo for healing, but didn’t stick around to see that you recovered. That’s not like him. No one would ever peg that Ancient Dragon as a brooder… a coward… nor as a male who would change his mind after centuries and centuries. What in the world did the two of you fight about that day before you returned with him?”

Athena grunted and then sneered. “We shared our feelings with each other, just as you suggested. Everything is fine between us.”

I made a buzzer sound with my mouth that startled Athena into jumping away from me. “And that would be another freaking lie. Care to try for a third this morning, sister? Or would you rather tell me the truth so this uncomfortable conversation could stop being so lame?”

Athena frowned. “There is nothing to say. Indar lied to me to cover his betrayal long ago. I called him out for blaming his actions in marrying a human woman on Father instead of himself. He said the next time he saw the King of the Olympians he was going to kill him. I said I would never allow that to happen—that I would die protecting Father. He said that was ironic, and that he should have done nothing Father asked since I was so willing to sacrifice myself. He said he should have flown as far away from me as he could have the day we met. I said I wished he had done that as well.”

Wow. That was a harsh talk. I winced a little because a Goddess and a Dragon both walking back from a wish-I’d-never-met-you declaration might be nearly impossible.

“What did Indar say after the two of you finished exchanging threats?”

Athena rolled her shoulders, shook her head, and swallowed hard. “Fine.”

My face wrinkled as I tried to understand her strange reply. “Are you being ironic too? What’s fine about you two slinging hurtful comments at each other?”

Athena lifted a hand in defeat. “I don’t know. That’s what he said—he said, ‘Fine,’ and then left. I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t. Nothing about this is fine. I never got the chance to suggest to him we try to become genuine friends.”

“Ah…” I said. “Indar was being sarcastic, and you didn’t get it.” I waited a couple of heartbeats. “Did you ask Zeus what had transpired between him and Indar before Zeus locked him into the statue? Because Indar had married just as Zeus ordered him to do. Technically, Indar had done everything Zeus commanded.”

“I asked. Father said it was so long ago that he didn’t remember the details.”

Of course, he remembered—the big coward. Like all members of our pantheon, Zeus hated admitting he was wrong. Most of my kind realized somewhere in the thousands of year we lived that apologizing to someone at some point was necessary for everyone’s mental health. I’d learned that lesson when I’d apologized to my half-brother, Apollo. Truly, I’d apologize all over again to have the relationship I had with him now.

Was Athena or her arrogant Dragon capable of such humility? On a scale of ten, I’d have to go with the chances of being zero.

Grunting in disgust, I searched my sister’s face. “And you believed him? Athena, he’s outright lying to you.”

“Yes. That’s what I thought,” Athena said with a nod. “Dragons always lie to get what they want. I know that better than most.”

“Not Indar, you big doofus,” I said, smacking my forehead. I wanted to smack hers, but it wasn’t the time. “I’m talking about Zeus, Athena. Zeus knows damn well what he said to Indar.”

“You know nothing about Father or the situation.”

I snorted and smirked, giving my twin the frustrated, exhausted look I’d perfected for moments like this with her. “Zeus doesn’t want to admit he once threatened to kill you. Maybe Zeus regrets saying it now, but Indar completely believed the threat. Zeus even told Indar that I was his backup plan if you died.”

“Father loves me. He would never kill me… or threaten to do so. The King of Olympus would give his life for me. I wear his Aegis as proof. Indar availed himself of whatever female would have him after getting the ability to shift into a human, just as any other human male would.”

I snorted. “I don’t know what kind of deal Zeus and Indar made about him shifting from Dragon into a human male, but Zeus forbade Indar to go to you in human form. Zeus told Indar he’d rather see you dead than see you take a beast into your bed.”

Athena crossed her arms. “You weren’t there, Atlanta. How do you know any of that happened?”

I crossed my arms as well. It calmed my urge to choke her for being stupid. “You’re right, Athena. I don’t really know what happened. You’re the one who was there. I’m sure Indar lied to you about a lot of things. You probably have tons of reasons not to believe him.”

Athena’s gaze dropped to the ground. I hinted even harder.

“I’m sure Indar made all kinds of promises that he never kept to you. I’m sure that an arrogant Dragon who saw himself as Gaia’s superior creation dreamed and plotted to become a human male long before he met you. I’m sure you weren’t the only reason on Earth he would ever lower himself into becoming mortal.”

Athena’s sigh was loud, but her gaze never lifted.

I rolled my eyes before driving the point home. “Who knows, sister? Maybe Indar felt nothing like genuine love for you at all, which is why he’s working so hard to be patient and give you time. Maybe he’s making all these stories up for some strange Dragon reason you and I can never understand.”

Athena’s hopeful gaze finally lifted. “Do you truly believe that?”

I uncrossed my arms at the hopefulness in her voice and waved them wildly around. “That was sarcasm. No. Seven hells, no, Athena. Dragons are arrogant and feel they’re always right. Why bother lying to anyone? Most are nothing more than ghosts in human machines now, but even Dragon ghosts still believe they’re the most superior of all Gaia’s creatures. Gaia doesn’t believe that, but I can tell you that even dead Dragons haven’t gotten the message yet. So I’m damn sure Indar secretly thinks he’s the hottest hot shit Dragon because he survived.”

Athena rubbed her forehead. “I hate sarcasm. I hate when you use it to make a point. It makes me feel stupid.”

Sighing, I motioned her to follow me. Her reaction wasn’t the one I wanted. I wanted her to get a clue and have an epiphany or something. But that wasn’t happening.

“Come on. It doesn’t matter what I think about Dragons. It only matters what you think. If you want to believe Zeus’s side-stepping lies over Indar’s painful sharing of the past, that’s your call. It’s really none of my business that you’re choosing to trust the wrong person.”

Athena blew out a breath. “I cannot side against Zeus, not even in this. The Dragon knows I can’t.”

“Can’t? Or won’t?” I asked as I turned to look down at her. “There’s a world of difference in those two verbs. And the one you choose speaks volumes about all your choices concerning Indar.”

“Be silent on the matter. I can’t discuss Dragons any longer. Talking about Indar gives me a headache. It always has.”

I chuckled at the irony, because I could clearly see she was fighting her own instincts about Indar, but I didn’t share my thoughts.

“That’s fine by me. I didn’t call you here to talk about you and Indar anyway. If you want to give up your one chance of happiness with the male you saved yourself for, so be it. That’s between you and the Fates. Thank Gaia, I’m not in charge of your destiny… or your ancient virginity.”

“What do the Fates know about the situation?”

“Everything,” I said flatly. “They know everything. They say little about what they know, but I assure you they know the absolute truth concerning the games of all of Gaia’s creatures. If you asked them about Indar, they might even tell you some things that could be helpful. That’s a stretch, but… it might give some peace on the matter. If you want to talk to them, let me know. I’ll call them for you.”

We walked in silence for several steps.

“If not to hunt for the missing Dragon, why did you call me here?” Athena asked.

“To show you a gift Uncle Hades gave me. When I saw what it was, I realized it belonged to both of us.”

“Should I be frightened?” Athena asked.

“Yes,” I said. “But I need you to promise me something before I show it to you.”

Athena rolled her eyes. “You’re always asking me for something strange.”

“I’m sure it seems like that to you, but I have my reasons. Here’s my demand this time—don’t run away when you see it.”

My sister snorted. “I’m the Goddess of War. I never run away.”

I stared at her. “If you don’t promise me, and you run, I’m going to call you a coward for the rest of our lives. You’ll have no recourse but to allow me to do so, because running away will make it the truth.”

Athena sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. “Your games don’t amuse me. You know I’m not easily shocked or frightened. If you must know the truth, I’m insulted by your request.”

I smirked. “My request is reasonable based on my experience of trying to enlighten you. You fainted at the sight of Indar. This is more shocking than you finding out that your Dragon was still alive.”

Athena crossed her arms again when we stopped in front of the Dragon statue. “Is this some silly dare you cooked up in your twisted mind to torment me? Am I the distraction you used to avoid working on the rest of the prophecy tasks?”

I rolled my eyes. Like I had time for that kind of childish crap. “Sure, Athena. Why not? This is just a childish dare I cooked up to torture you.” I pointed at her. “But if you run, I swear to Gaia that I’m still going to call you a coward. If you stay, I will praise your courage to the next five people I see.”

“Deal. We’ll go into the main house so you can brag to your man child first,” Athena said, smiling with her usual confidence.

I turned to the Dragon statue, pulled some magic into my palm, and stuck my hand into the belly of the metal beast Athena had created. I dragged out the purple box and carried it to a table. When I opened the top, the tiny spirit inside the orb looked up and waved frantically at me.

I stepped out of Athena’s way and pointed to the box. “Keep in mind that Uncle Hades has a very dark sense of humor. He intended the gift to be a bribe so I would help him take over the God Realm. His reasoning of what he thought I would do with his gift would also shock you.”

Athena grunted. “Yes, I’m quite aware of our Underworld uncle’s penchant for death humor, but I’ve seen plenty of severed fingers and eyeballs in my life, Atlanta. I went through a phase once where I took one eye of my victims as a souvenir. I collected about seventy before I stopped.”

“Gross… and TMI,” I said with a chuckle.

“Yes. Eyeballs are nasty when they decompose. It cost too much to embalm them back then. The ingredients were always in short supply,” Athena added. She peered down into the box and studied the orb. “Who’s the tiny person trapped inside the glass? Looks like she’s sobbing. This is a spell, isn’t it? Did your Sprite cast it? Or one of your other strange friends?”

I leaned over and peered into the box again. Inside the orb, Metis was kneeling with her hands covering her face. I looked up at the daughter who’d inherited our birth mother’s looks.

Not having all day to waste on my revelation, I pointed at the orb. Plus, I really wanted to get this part over with so I’d have some peace. “Peck on the glass until the person looks up.”

Athena’s mouth twisted at my bossiness, but my arrogant twin finally did as I asked. I stepped back once more, hoping to watch the drama unfold.

My sibling’s gasp was loud as she peered at proof of our oddly shared and nearly mythical past.

As Athena’s gaze lifted to mine, her mouth moved as she tried to speak and failed. Two seconds later, her eyes rolled back in her head moments before she dropped.

I barely caught my fainting sister before her head hit the concrete floor.

“Well, you didn’t run, but you escaped the ugly truth in your own unique way,” I said, chastising her unconscious form.

I lifted the not-so-tough-as-most-believed Goddess of War and set her on the table next to the one with Metis’s orb resting on it. As I arranged my sister as comfortably as possible, the amulet I’d worn since my last trip to Italy fell forward inside my loose shirt. I pulled it out and studied it.

According to the Fates, who’d given it to me long ago, the amulet allegedly contained my birth mother’s power. I’d been wearing it out of habit even though I hadn’t ever gotten it to work. Which is why I’d stored it in my temple when they first gave it to me.

Seeing Metis in the orb, it occurred to me that maybe I was never meant to use her power. Maybe the amulet was meant to serve its original owner in this strange situation.

As I hid the amulet inside my shirt again, I walked back to the box with the orb.

Metis stared up at me. I smiled down at her and waved. “I know you’re frustrated. Just so you know, I’m probably going to let you out at some point. First, I need to make sure you’re not one of Uncle Hades’s Underworld plots meant to stop me from fulfilling the prophecy. Also, I’ll need to contact a friend for help in releasing you. You’ll have to be patient a bit longer.”

Her ethereal body expanded and contracted when she released the big breath she’d obviously been holding. Morbid curiosity got the better of me.

“Do you know who I am—who we are?”

Ethereal Metis frowned as she nodded. My birth mother didn’t look one bit sorry or guilty to be talking to the grown-up version of the helpless newborn she’d nearly killed. But she held out both her hands palms up pleadingly as she gazed at me. Since speech seemed denied to her, I could only guess that she was pleading with me for something. Forgiveness, maybe? That wasn’t how most of our people worked. Even Mother Mnemosyne had a dark side. My kind killed first and regretted it later—just like Metis had almost done to me.

But apologizing for it? Evidently, that sort of odd thing had never been done until I did it. Apollo still looked at me strangely when we talked about it.

Which was precisely the reason my pantheon had gotten into so much trouble with Gaia over the years.

I couldn’t walk away again and leave the imprisoned spirit worried about her fate, so I nodded and mirrored her palms out gesture from above.

Inwardly, I blamed Cale and his youthful human optimism for my need to believe Metis had been as emotionally distressed as the Fates claimed she’d been in the story they’d shared. Even Zeus didn’t know that I knew the entire story. There had been no reason to tell it to a man who’d forgotten everything he’d ever known or done.

And now? Well, what would be the point in creating more trouble by telling him Hades had gifted Metis’s spirit to me? My uncle’s original intention was horrible. The Hellhound puppies had complicated my life, but he’d made my birth mother’s rogue spirit my responsibility.

Well, mine and Athena’s. This time, I planned to make my reluctant twin do the right thing by our dead parent and not just our lying sperm donor.

Plus, I really wanted to hear our birth mother tell her side of our story. Why? Partly because I’m crazy that way, I suppose.

Mostly, I wanted to hear it because I wondered if Zeus’s curse had somehow extended through him to her—and therefore to Athena and me being born from their union.

Maybe Nyx, the Goddess of Manifestation, had accidentally put something wicked into motion that surprised even her.

Okay. I had no idea where my curiosity came from, but my gut was all but shouting to me to let Metis out of the orb and find out what was going on. Since I wasn’t keen to start another task of the Doomsday Prophecy yet, this seemed as good a time as any to get to the bottom of why Hades had given me such a horrific gift.

Yes, even if it meant talking to the Fates again.

Chapter 3

When I heard Athena groaning, I knew she was finally coming around. She’d been out for about thirty minutes. Luckily, Cale hadn’t yet come to investigate. I was going to have to tell him about Metis being trapped in an Underworld orb soon, but I wanted to see what Athena thought about it first.

Yes. It was a warped family thing. You don’t get to pick your parents.

I quickly put Metis and her container back inside the Dragon statue before walking over to peer down into my twin’s confused face.

“Enjoy your nap, Sleeping Beauty?” I asked.

My twin blinked up at me before sneering. “You bending over me with that gloating smile must be a preview of how I will one day suffer in the Underworld. I can almost hear Hades laughing at me. Before you, our demented uncle would have had to use a lot of imagination to come up with a suitable torture.”

Chuckling, I reached out my hand and arm to help her sit up. “If it helps any, you came around much faster this time. And there were no witnesses. Well, except me. Oh, and Wizard. But I don’t think he’s been paying attention. He wandered off to talk to a mare across the fence earlier.”

Athena’s mouth twisted. “No. That doesn’t help me at all.”

My wicked sense of humor kicked in, so I ended up laughing at her. “For the record, you didn’t imagine what I showed you. Hades trapped our birth mother’s spirit in an orb and gave her to me. You look just like her.”

Athena snorted. “Get out of my face. You lead the most bizarre life, Atlanta.”

I snorted right back. “You can say that again,” I told her, but held up my hand to stop her when she opened her mouth. She was far too literal. “I can see that I’m going to have to carry a sign when I feel the need to be sarcastic around you.”

Athena blew out the breath she’d been holding as she eased off the table to stand. She paused trying to move and took some deep breaths. I could tell it cost her.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Other than a headache… yes.”

I watched her looking slowly around. “I put the box back inside the statue. It was the only place I could put Metis where no one else would bother her.”

“If that actually is who you believe it is, Goddess Metis is dead. Our birth mother died the day we were born. She doesn’t belong in the Mortal Realm or the God Realm. She belongs in the Underworld. She belongs to Uncle Hades.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know all that… and I technically agree. But why is she back now? One thing I’ve learned from doing the work of the prophecy is nothing happens randomly to me, which seems doubly true for everyone in our pantheon. And yes, I’m talking about you as well.”

Athena sat down on a bench and rubbed her forehead. “First, you spew nonsense at me. Then you spew philosophy. You are chaos incarnate for my brain.”

“Life is chaos, Athena, and we swim through it to our reality every day. All I have is a theory. I believe Hades gave her to me for some reason I haven’t learned about yet. If it had been a mistake, I feel certain the Fates would have intervened before now before they are always sniffing around me. No, I haven’t told them I have her, but they know. They know freaking everything.”

Athena held out one hand palm up, exactly as Metis had done. “Fascinating. What’s it mean when you do that?” I asked, pointing at her palm-up hand.

“It shows that I’m listening and hearing you, even though I have no idea what you keep yammering on about,” Athena declared.

“Huh…” I said as I crossed my arms. So Metis didn’t know why she was here, either. None of us knew yet. The situation was even more perplexing than I’d first thought. “As much as I dread doing so, I think I’m going to have to take this hot mess to the Fates. You’re welcome to tag along and chat with them about Indar after I get done.”

“No need,” Athena said, rising from her seat. “I need food to get over this headache. I’m going home.”

I smirked. “Home to Daddy?”

“No. Home to my home. I have a home, Atlanta. I simply don’t get to be there very often.”

“Oh,” I said, finally feeling bad for jabbing at her weak spots so much. “How’s Zeus doing?”

“Father is fine. Indar is fine. I’m fine. Any more questions?”

“Not a single one,” I said, imitating her sharp tone. “Look… don’t tell Zeus about Metis. He has enough to worry about.”

“I agree. He’s been making trips to visit those Gods and Goddesses who did not show up to help him,” Athena said.

Her answer surprised me, but I shrugged. “Politics are the price of being king.”

Athena shrugged. Neither of us wanted his job. Who would want such a life? Well, I guess Ares did, but I would never allow the God of War to have that much power. I’d kill him first. Fratricide?

“I have an idea, but I need to check it out with the Fates before I share it. If you don’t want to go along with me to see them, then I guess I’ll get in touch with you afterward.”

“Your Dragon has my cell phone number. Tell him to text me,” Athena ordered.

Why on Gaia’s green Earth would Cale have Athena’s cell phone number? I shook my head at the news. “I will do that. I’ll also let you know if Indar shows up.”

Athena shrugged again, and then she walked away without saying goodbye.

I suppose telling her about Metis could have gone worse, but she didn’t really seem to care. Was I the only one of us who felt that our birth mother had gotten a raw deal in her Goddess life? Yes, Zeus was directly responsible. But indirectly, her Titan family had stood by without intervening.

Would their intervention have kept Zeus out of her? No. He’d been determined to impregnate a Titan. Would it have kept her from dying? Since their regret lingered all these years later, my guess would yes.

I found it shocking that Athena had brushed her off so easily since seeing Metis proved instantly where Athena had gotten her looks. The two of them looked like identical twins, and both of them had fallen in love with the most difficult male they could ever have imagined meeting.

When you thought about it, Athena and Metis had a bunch of things in common. Her rant about the rules—that Metis was dead, didn’t belong here, yada yada—was emotional insulation. But our birth mother was here. Well, sort of here.

I wanted to know why.

“I guess dealing with Kyril once in a while is a small price to pay for having better luck in love than the other women in my family.”

Sighing, I headed into the house to fetch my Dragon. We had a house to see.

***

“Why do wealthy mortals have such strange tastes? This whole place is so… Elvis,” I complained, looking around at the ornate gold, the gazillion mirrors, and old vinyl records tacked to the wall.

Cale chuckled. “At least it’s early Elvis instead of late Elvis.”

Petal said nothing to my rant, but she pulled out her cell phone.

I shook my head. Did everyone have a cell phone now? When had that happened? And more importantly, had I paid for them all except Cale’s? Leaving Money Bags Mellie—aka Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy—holding the purse strings of in my absence, anything was possible. The business might be insolvent by the time I finished the prophecy, but all nine of my Muse sisters and Petal would have brand new wardrobes and the latest in mortal technology.

This is why I kept my gold in the temple. Petal’s squawk of alarm pulled my attention back to her.

“Yuck,” Petal said, looking up at me and frowning. “The next house will not be decorated in any Elvis style. You have my word.”

I chuckled at her sincere apology. “I had an unpleasant discussion with Athena this morning. Don’t mind my grumbling. The Elvis stuff is cosmetic and can be fixed. When I look at these places, I need to focus on the bigger picture items.”

“Like what?” Petal asked.

I had a list. It wasn’t long, but it was unnegotiable. “Is there a field for the Pegasi? Are there enough trees to grow a forest to hide a portal? You know, my real issues.” I glared at Cale when he covered his mouth with his hand to hide his smile. “Why is that funny? You know what I’m saying is true.”

“Oh, I know,” Cale said with a grin. “I’m just glad the realtor made that phone call while we looked around. Those are not exactly questions you could ask her.”

“You’re welcome for her phone call,” Petal said, curtseying while Cale laughed and clapped for her.

I sighed in frustration despite their cuteness. Athena’s attitude was affecting my focus. “The house itself is plenty big enough. Let’s go outside and look at the land. I’ll need a pool for when Poseidon visits, but it doesn’t have to be Olympic-sized—no pun intended.”

Cale burst out laughing. “Do I have to say it?”

“No,” I said. “I know Poseidon is used to swimming in oceans. Any pool I have will seem like a bathtub to him, but I still need one. I’m not inviting him to a place with nowhere for him to get wet. Some God Realm creatures need water like we need air.”

“This house has a pool,” Petal assured me. “It has a field too. And I’m not concerned about a forest because the Nymphs and I plan to grow you the best forest ever. No one will ever know about your portal.”

I blinked at Petal. “That would be amazing. Thank you.”

Petal lifted a shoulder. “We agreed it was a wedding present fit for a Goddess.”

“Wedding present?” I tilted my head at her nod, before turning to Cale. “Who said anything about a wedding?”

Cale lifted a hand. “I said nothing, but I would not be opposed to marrying you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Wow. That’s what I’ve always dreamed of—marrying someone who’s not opposed to marrying me.”

Cale winked at me. “You know I’m yours any way you’ll have me.”

Finally, I laughed too. We were a crazy set, but Cale was part of my destiny. Marriage, though? Did I need that step? “Yes, I know, Dragon Boy. I remain grateful you never gave up on us.”

Cale stared at me for far too long, but eventually, he cleared his throat. “That makes me want to make you even more grateful, so let’s go look outside while we still can.”

Not expecting much as I passed three glass cabinets full of gold-plated tchotchkes and even more Elvis stuff, we went out into the yard through a set of worn-out patio doors that opened onto a paved terrace. My shock was so complete that I stopped where I stood. I immediately fell into blissful love with it.

“This is surreal. This is amazing. This is… This is… Petal, this is paradise.”

Petal shook her head. “Not really. Paradise in the Mortal Realm had snakes. This land does not. I had that checked. Stem is very good at checking for unwelcome animals.”

There was a pool built to look like a lagoon. A lagoon.

Surrounding the pool was a canopy of trees that shaded it, but they were far enough away that the leaves wouldn’t shed into the water. Hopefully.

Oh, who cared… the pool was amazing. I’d give the Nymphs unlimited access. They’d see it was kept pristine… or at least that it was safe enough to swim in.

“Gaia’s secret garden was lush like this. Do you think this is one of her secret gardens?” I asked as I walked to get a closer look at the trees.

Petal shook her head. “I don’t think so, Atlanta. There’s no magic here. It’s blank like most mortal land. For you, this would be a good thing. No cleansing will be required before you create.”

“True,” I said, smiling at her. “Tell me the owners are taking all their Elvis stuff with them after the sale, and this one moves to the top of the list.”

“Is it not typical in the Mortal Realm for them to take their belongings with them when they move?” Petal asked.

I shrugged. “It is, but I need it to get that in writing. The house has too much Elvis for me to deal with. I met the man, Petal. He was incredibly talented, but he was weird. I’m not ready to sift through his belongings. Gaia only knows what we’d find.”

“We’ll put it in the deal that they have to empty the house completely,” Cale said. He pointed to the other two acres. “That’s all the land we need. My entire family could land there in dragon form.”

“Do you like this place too?”

“Yes,” Cale said. “We can make it perfect. And I will get it for much less than they’re asking. My aunt is an appraiser and one of my uncles is a house inspector.”

“Bring me the bottom-line number when you get things worked out.”

“Count on it,” Cale said, smiling warmly at me.

I turned to Petal and curtsied. “Thank you for finding me the perfect home, Princess Petal. May the Great Gaia rain blessings on you for a thousand years.”

Petal turned pinker than her dress and giggled.

All in all, I decided that the day was turning out much better than I’d hoped.

My cheerful mood lasted until we left house and found Zeus leaning against Cale’s car. I don’t know what he did to get rid of the realtor, but he was going to find getting rid of me a lot harder.

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