Setup for the story…
My working title for the story is Midlife Muse. It is Book 1 of the Nine Heirs and a Spare series. It is loosely based on Greek mythology crafted with a Donna twist. In essence, I made up a new goddess–the Goddess Atlanta–who no one knows about because she’s been Zeus’s best-kept secret. Zeus is her father, and she hates him for killing her mother, keeping her twin Athena, and sending her away at birth.
All secrets surrounding Atlanta are slowly being revealed because the God Realm ejected all the Greek gods and goddesses. They now have normal jobs in the Mortal Realm and are turning into actual mortals per prophecy (aka a curse that the Goddess Nyx put on Zeus for hitting on her when she was married).
Atlanta is their predicted savior and the one person who is supposed to be able to reverse what’s been done. But now that she’s become a forty-year-old mortal woman, all she wants is a peaceful life and to be left alone to age gracefully.
But that’s not the destiny the Fates have in mind for her.
WARNING: This sample has not been edited. It is also written in first person POV, which is a new venture for me as a writer. My editor is going to earn her keep with this one.
“Atlanta, what are you doing?”
“Getting ready to work out. I’m almost done.”
Kal snorted as he stomped away from me. When he got to the other side of the dirt circle he called a training area, my long-time trainer stopped and glared at me as if I was ruining his entire day.
I needed to hurry. Kal’s patience with me was time-sensitive, so I quickly shoved my muscle rub, aspirin, and B-12 vitamins back into my workout bag, hoping they didn’t break the glasses that had gotten tossed in there first. I normally left my reading glasses behind in the office. When I grabbed my workout bag, I’d forgotten the glasses were parked on top of my head.
We’d been following the same routine since my exile into the Mortal Realm. It had worked fairly smoothly for the six years I’d been forced to live here. I kept a ready bag with all my stuff at the office with me. When Kal opened a portal, I grabbed it and leaped through into his tiny part of the God Realm. We would spend an unpleasant hour keeping my fighting skills as sharp as possible before he sent me back.
“Atlanta? What are those Gaia-forsaken things covering your knees?”
He’d yelled the question across the distance now separating us. Surprised by Kal’s observation, I looked down at my stretchy knee supports and sighed before yelling back my answer.
“They brace my kneecaps and keep my joints warm. I don’t want stiff knees after working out.”
It wasn’t a total lie, but to be fair, it wasn’t the whole truth either. If Kal suspected that, he refused to show it. Precautions were necessary now that I had aged so much. Healers in the God Realm were powerful, but healers in the Mortal Realm couldn’t instantly heal injuries, especially body parts like knees.
My body was around forty-years-old in mortal years. A serious injury might not speed up my aging spiral, but I couldn’t take any chances. Everyone needed to eat, and I ran a business that currently employed my whole freaking family.
Not that my trainer had sympathy for my situation. How could Kal understand? Demi-gods were a grumpy bunch with their inferiority complexes over being half-god instead of a full one, but at least no one was running them out of their native realm. The Fates, for whatever reason, had left them in the God Realm.
Kal was a burly Minotaur with enough face piercings to start his own shop. He was also the most loyal friend I had next to Duff. I didn’t know if Kal thought his piercings raised his intimidation factor or that he looked sexy with them. Whatever the case, he stared at my knee supports a moment more before turning away to shake his head. After six years of getting those looks, I couldn’t tell the difference between disgust and pity on his bull-like face. Either way, I refused to dwell on Kal’s nuances.
I cupped my hands around my mouth to yell again. “I’m good. Come at me with all you got.”
Why was I here facing down a Minotaur who had very real intentions of hurting me? Well, if I had to live as a Mortal for the rest of my life, I wanted to be a kick-ass one. At least, I wanted that until I got too old to lift my leg into a round-off high enough to loosen someone’s teeth.
“Am I going to damage you?” Kal asked loudly. He stared hard at me while he waited for my answer.
“Only in your dreams,” I yelled back with a smile. Fake it until you make it was my motto.
His bullish bellow filled the air as he picked up his mace and started toward me. I looked around and realized I’d neglected to choose a weapon. Great. Just great. I clenched my fists and sighed.
Once upon a time in the God Realm, I’d been a powerful goddess. Though I’d never found my goddess specialty, which was a big deal in the God Realm, I developed all the talents I discovered in myself over the centuries. After Kal trained me to fight, I discovered that I excelled at war. Kal even admitted I was a natural. Unfortunately, no one wanted to hear about how good I was in battle because my father had forbidden me to raise a weapon against anyone.
My name is Atlanta, and I’m a goddess of nothing specific. Or at least, I used to be a goddess. Every moment I spent living as an aging midlife mortal made it even more unlikely that I would ever figure out the true purpose for which I was born.
There were no grand stories about me in Greek Mythology. No one would ever read any true stories either, not on papyrus, scroll, or inscribed in a marble column of some majestic Greek temple.
No, but everyone knows my powerful twin—Athena, Goddess of War. Athena got to stand proudly in the Greek spotlight. I didn’t.
To this very day, Athena denies both my existence and being my twin. We’re only semi-identical, but the resemblance is definitely there despite any glamour Athena uses.
I couldn’t hate my sister back, no matter how much she probably deserved it. My adopted mother said Zeus had spelled Athena to forget me after our birth. Sometime over the many centuries of our existence, my twin shook off the magical constriction that kept us apart. However, meeting me didn’t change the fact that we were strangers to each other. Despite how it works with mortals, Goddesses can’t miss a twin they never knew about.
However, I detested my father. Shortly after our birth, our father killed our birth mother. The way my adopted mother explained it, he almost killed me too. Apparently, Zeus decided that he didn’t need both of his firstborn children. Since Athena was born a few seconds before me, Zeus made her his champion.
Me, though? Zeus sent me to live with Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory, who at the time was the size of the entire island of Santorini because she was carrying his next nine daughters. Growing up too quickly, I soon discovered my father had knocked up a lot of Goddesses who were back then milling about in both the God Realm and the Mortal Realm. Despite my physical acceleration to near adulthood, I was mentally limited to what a goddess teenager could understand. With an adopted mother who controlled memories, I also had other disadvantages as well. Mother did what Zeus told her to do. Controlling me seemed to stay at the top of her to-do list.
“You came here to fight, Atlanta. Stop Musing and pay attention to me,” Kal roared.
Kal was right. I hadn’t been paying attention, but no way was I admitting that to His Snorting Grumpiness. “How can I not pay attention to you, Kal? You snort like a bull and are as big as one.”
The mace swung at me, and I adeptly dodged the first swipe. Muscle memory was excellent. The second swing got closer, but I missed connecting with that one as well. A twinge in my left knee caught my attention, so I wasn’t so lucky with the third swipe. The pointy head of Kal’s weapon hit me in the stomach and sent me flying across the training area.
My scream of surprise filled the air. Luckily, Kal paid a coven of witches to keep a ward around his training area boundary, so I didn’t end up going into some other demi-god’s territory. Instead, I hit Kal’s warded wall and fell face-down into the dirt.
Seconds ticked by until I finally could bring myself to roll over and groan. Then I felt the ground shake as Kal jogged over to me with his mace still in his hand. My blurring eyes traveled up a set of extremely manly and muscular legs until I got a full view of what the Minotaur was hiding under the sparring kilt covering the bottom half of his body. Seeing enormous man parts dangling above my still spinning head had me crawling away and scrambling against my dizziness to get back on my feet.
“That’s it. No more training for you, Atlanta. I will not bring you here again until you get your power fixed. Contact me when you are less mortal.”
“My mortality may not be fixable,” I reminded him with a frown.
“Then may the Fates be kind enough to kill you quickly when you challenge your destiny,” Kal said with a shrug as he scooped up my broken and tossed me away.
“No, Kal, please don’t send me back yet…”
But it was too late for pleading. I shot out of the portal into the Mortal Realm and landed as hard on the floor of my office as I had against Kal’s warded wall. Groaning, I rolled to the side and pushed myself up. Seconds later, the workout bag hit me in the back of my head.
If Kal broke my reading glasses, I was going to kick some serious Minotaur ass next time I saw. Or at least I’d try really, really hard. Those were my favorite pair, and I’d lost all my others.
When I’d climbed to my feet, I dug into my bag and popped a couple more aspirin before stumbling to my desk to work. I tried not to dwell on whether Kal got lucky or if his fears about damaging me were justified.
I heard a knock, and then Clio’s head appeared through the door she’d cracked open.
“I heard a thump, Atlanta. Are you okay?”
“Yes. I was working out.”
“Oh. Okay,” Clio said with a smile. “See you at the meeting. I brought cookies—the kind you like.”
Working with my nine half-sisters was a pain sometimes, but other times they brought my favorite cookies. It was sad how happy the thought of cookies made me. Some goddess I was.
The nine Muses and their memory-controlling mother were the only family I’d ever known. They were also the only family I wanted to claim among my father’s godly creations. Zeus and Athena were both on my bad list.
I’d interacted with my birth sister, the renowned Goddess of War, about the same amount of times I’d visited with my birth father, which was only eight times total now in what added up to be a lot of centuries in the God Realm.
After my failed attempts to get to know my famous father and full twin sister, the Fates had cautioned me away from going near the others. The rest were a mixture of legitimate ones like Ares, born of the Goddess Hera, and too many illegitimate siblings to keep track of without help.
Mostly I did fine following the Fates edict, but one day a few centuries ago, the resentment I felt toward Zeus and Athena caught up with me.
Or maybe it was all the wars going on in the world and all the chances for glory I was missing because of them. I forget what I was thinking at the time, but I did something that the Fates specifically warned me not to do. The Fates are like crazy maiden aunts to all of Zeus’s progeny. Both mortals and gods are typically afraid of them, but resentment has a way of canceling out normal common sense.
And I admit I blew them off partly because they hadn’t technically forbidden me to get involved in what was happening in the world. Zeus had done so, but by that time, I no longer cared what he wanted. I’d been quietly rebelling for years, and nothing dire had come of it. I don’t know what Athena thought about me. I doubt she knows what I did anyway.
Angry and hurt, my focus was on getting revenge. And I wasted no time getting to it.
Yes, I was younger—younger and stupider. I considered the Muses to be my pseudo-siblings instead of my real ones. Being abandoned and shunned by Zeus and Athena hurt me in ways I can’t explain. With my mother gone before I got the chance to know her, it wounded my sense of self that what remained of my real birth family wanted nothing to do with me.
Now don’t get me wrong. My adopted family treated me well, but I never fit in with them. The Muses spent their time doing crafts and learning to write, sing, or dance. I spent my days practicing with all the swords and all the weapons I could beg, borrow, or steal from everyone willing to sneak behind Zeus’ back to loan them to me.
Once I even stole my father’s famous thunderbolt. He still doesn’t know I took it because I returned it after he destroyed several Mortal Realm cities looking for it. Neither Athena nor Ares ever got as close as I did. I know because they would have used it to make a grab for the Numero Uno God seat. But I didn’t want the responsibility. I just wanted Zeus to admit he’d made a giant mistake about me.
When my regular weapons training was far enough along, I assumed a Roman goddess name in the Mortal Realm and started secretly helping the ambitious Romans do their world-conquering thing. Really, what did I care about the Greek cities and landmarks that the Romans ransacked? Alexander the Great, my twin sister’s pet project, turned out not to be as great as he thought he was. That story is a long one.
It took quite a while for me to wreck all the havoc I wanted to wreck, but in less than a century, I made the Greeks and their arrogant Gods thoroughly pay for shunning me. They assumed I was a Roman goddess and petitioned the Roman Pantheon to stop me. I don’t think the Romans cared who I was or why I was pretending to be one of them.
But—and there’s always a but in every epiphany—eventually, my beloved Romans fell to other mortals with being helped by other badass, upset gods from pantheons that made both the Greek and Roman pantheons look weak.
My adopted mother sometimes messes with my memories, but I think my epiphany was around the time I realized my crazy aunts, the three Fates, weren’t as crazy as I thought they were.
To this day, I still haven’t figured out why they didn’t kill me for messing up their BIG PLANS for the Mortal Realm, which they delighted in reminding me that I’d ruined. Maybe it was because I truly had learned my lesson about revenge not being worth the cost of so many mortal and immortal lives. I certainly learned that indulging hate tended to create more problems, and often worse ones, than the ones you initially were trying to solve.
I definitely learned that one lone goddess should never try to conquer the world no matter how angry and motivated. At least, not without permission from the Fates. I knew for a fact that my father had never learned that lesson.
My interference had consequences. Everyone knows that after the Romans got conquered, the world got crazier. Mortals developed technology, which those from the God Realm still blame as the beginning of the end. It makes sense when you think about it. Who needs a God or goddess when anyone can find all the help they need on the Internet?
I knew we were all in serious trouble when the God Realm pushed all but a few Gods and Goddesses out of it. Portals instantly opened in front of thousands of us, and we all got tossed into the Mortal Realm by some of Gaia’s people. My Gaia-sent tosser delighted in telling me it was all my fault as he sent me through the portal harder than even Kal had.
A few Gods and Goddesses went back to the God Realm and fought to stay, but that didn’t work out well. Trained in war strategy, I knew better than to try, especially with so much guilt weighing on me.
However you wanted to view what happened, believe me, there were worse destinies in the God Realm than the destiny we found in the Mortal Realm. Most of us weren’t harmed much by relocating, and being a god or goddess back then wasn’t so bad here. The power loss happened to most of us so slowly that it took several years to even realize what was going on.
I glanced in the mirror only to make sure buttons and zippers were closed properly. I only noticed what was going on when the Muses went from looking like teenagers to looking like soccer moms. My adopted mother developed worry wrinkles across her forehead and started having migraines with her hormone shifts every month.
My birth father, who still considers himself the God of all Gods, even started turning gray. At least, this is what my adopted mother told me because she still talks to the creep all the time.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before I noticed that all the gods and goddesses were undergoing the same changes. I got conservative and stopped using the remaining goddess power I possessed. I saw no point in fighting the inevitable physical changes—a need to survive forced me into rethinking my selfish life.
Talk about the apple not falling far from the tree.
I definitely became my father’s daughter during my Roman goddess days. My regret is that by helping the Romans, I set into motion the doomsday prophesy the Fates had slapped on my birth father. So, now I look and think like a forty-year-old mortal woman because I’m rapidly becoming one in the Mortal Realm. I’m struggling with the physical indignities that come with mortal aging, but my concern is not for what the mirror tells me each day. I still don’t care how I look. I mean, men still want to sleep with me, or at least the last time I indulged in online dating, that was the case. Sure, it might be nice if my knees didn’t hurt so often, but lots of mortals contend with that daily.
In my mind, any Goddess of War—even an unknown one—should be above whining about every body part that aches. Truthfully, though, I didn’t need Kal’s confirmation that I was no longer fit for any challenge harder than yoga for seniors.
The Fates warned me every year on my birthday. Time was running out for all of us.
Whatever that meant.
My personal cell phone rang and interrupted my musing.
Getting older in the Mortal Realm had not improved the bad temper I tried to keep hidden from everyone. Everyone knew, though, that I hated being bothered when I was Musing. It’s how I make a living. I may not have been born for this kind of work, but money doesn’t grow on trees outside the God Realm. It took a lot of moolah to live well in the Mortal Realm.
So, every day I shoved my goddess dreams away and spent all my time matching mortal clients with the perfect Muse.
My sisters assist mortals in becoming the god-like beings most mortals dream of being. We don’t grant them physical immortality, nor would I even if I could. The Fates controlled immortality, but I heard many stories about my father doling out immortality to his favorite servants. Most of those my father converted to immortals ended up having to be killed eventually for reasons of insanity. Not that the boundaries of morality ever stopped the almighty and incredibly selfish Zeus.
Despite my propensity for fighting to the death on battlegrounds, my body count remains at zero among our clients. All my clever sisters and I did was help mortals become people who would always be remembered. Like many gods and goddesses, fame was what those in the Mortal Realm sought beyond what was logical.
Rock stars? New York Times Bestselling Authors? Award-winning actors?
Yes, creating them was what we did, but it was a lot harder to accomplish than you might think. In the Mortal Realm, I called myself Atlanta Spears. I didn’t like my mortal name, but I’d get laughed at for calling myself Goddess Atlanta.
Since it wasn’t the office phone ringing with new business, I ignored my cell when it rang again. A couple of years ago, my powers would have told me who was calling without me having to answer it. But like my once perky breasts that now sagged because of gravity, my goddess power was losing its own battle.
Mortals considered being forty ‘midlife’ as in it was considered the middle of their short lives. I had learned for some of them, turning forty meant they were already headed to their graves. I didn’t feel that way myself, despite the reading glasses I used for reading client contracts. Anyway, the real bane of my mortal existence was that everything wrong was not my fault. No, it was my no-longer-omnipotent father’s fault.
Sure, I may have set the downward spiraling prophecy in motion while I was going through my revenge phase, but newsflash for all realms, I hadn’t been the one who brought the prophecy into being in the first place.
According to my adopted mother, shortly after my father got the job of being Numero Uno, he screwed up with the Fates. Or maybe he refused to screw them. I never got the full story. I just knew they were somehow related to my mother, a woman my father hated enough to kill.
If Zeus had refused to bed any female—goddess or mortal—that would have been a unique first for my father because restraining his libido didn’t seem possible for him.
Despite my determination to ignore the caller, my cell continued to ring and ring. Only the adopted mother I loved or the loathsome father I detested dared to torture me with that kind of persistence during business hours.
I finally snatched the phone up to see which annoying parent it was. “This better be important, or you’re dead.”
“Why aren’t you answering your father’s calls, Atlanta? Zeus’s been trying to reach you for three whole days. You asked him to call before he stopped by. What good is setting that parameter if you don’t answer your phone so he can tell you he’s coming?”
I frowned at my adopted mother’s chastising tone more than her logic. How old did someone in the Mortal Realm have to be before they stopped getting fussed at by a parent? Surely forty should be a sufficient age for people to leave you alone. I wish I knew who I could ask these kinds of questions, but I didn’t cultivate mortal friends. If I guarded my power wisely, I would still live two or three times as long as mortals did, which meant I’d be forty for a decade or two. No, all I needed was a handbook on mortal traditions. Maybe I’d add that to my next research list.
“If Zeus is coming by just to complain about how terrible his life is, I don’t want to hear it. My life’s no picnic either.”
“Atlanta, you’re forty in mortal years now. Act like a dignified mortal adult instead of a petulant young goddess who’s still mad at her father.”
I lifted the hand not holding the phone and shook it in the air, which now vibrated with the power my anger was releasing. Only my parents could make me this mad.
“Why do you always defend him, Mother? No man that selfish could be good in bed. Zeus is a horrible, loathsome god. He killed my birth mother and foisted me off on you without a single look back over his shoulder. Am I supposed to cut him slack just because he chose not to kill me when he killed my mother?”
“The situation was far more complicated than you make it seem, Atlanta. Clotho was involved, and so were the other two Fates. All Gods have to bow to those three just like the mortals do.”
“Who do you think told me the truth? I’m quite aware of how much the Fates control our lives. Clotho visits me every year on my birthday to recite the doomsday poem about the prophecy. Why isn’t my twin sister getting a doomsday warning? None of the Fates are visiting Athena because she’d have made her ninth trip to see me simply to brag about getting that sort of attention from them.”
“Clotho’s trying to be helpful in the only way she can. You have to be the one to figure out the prophecy. That’s how prophecies work.”
“Well, not for much longer. The Fates are aging too. You know, I thought my breasts were bad, but Clotho’s breasts have practically dropped to her knees. She needs to wear a support bra instead of free boarding it in those sheets she insists on draping around her. Sheets fashioned into togas are not a good fashion statement in 2020.”
My rant and roll had too much momentum now to stop.
“And why can’t the Fates offer me something helpful? I have wrinkles on my forehead, and my chin is disappearing in the loose skin on my neck. Do you know why this is happening? It’s happening because I wasted my goddess abilities trying to be what other people wanted me to be. I never even got to use my powers because the almighty jerk who created me forbade me to, and you made sure I followed his rules.”
“You need to embrace the life you’ve been living and let go of the one you didn’t get to have. Feeling sorry for yourself is beneath your birthright as a goddess. I raised you better.’
I frowned and closed my eyes. My adopted mother was convinced that I was some kind of fated savior of the gods, but she was wrong. I was barely saving the mortal business I created for my silly sisters so they’d have a way to feed themselves. I could have made a living as a soldier or an assassin. Turning mortal had only made the nine of them ditzier. They needed a keeper, and I’d been doing the job for most of our immortal lives. It seemed fated that I’d end up doing it for the rest of our mortal years.
Sighing into the phone, I tried to end the call on a better note. “Look… I’m sorry we keep having this same argument, but I have a right to be bitter. What memories do I have from my goddess life to keep me warm in my old age as a mortal? I’ll tell you how many, Mother—none. Athena trained as a warrior while I was babysitting nine women who can barely tie their own shoes without help. You and I both know that I’m nothing but a spare heir, and I’m not even your heir.”
“You may never see yourself as my daughter, but for better or worse, you’ll always be your father’s daughter. That is a fact that can never be changed.”
I ugly grunted into the phone as a typical frustrated man would. “It’s definitely a for worse situation, trust me. Athena has medals and achievements. Her temples in the Mortal Realm may be in ruins, but some of them are still standing. I had one small temple in Rome—only one—dedicated to me, and a religious group built a church over it. I didn’t dare stop it from being erected, and do you know why? Because the temple only honors my secret Roman identity, which is more invisible than my Greek one. No Greek living or dead knows that Goddess Atlanta exists.”
“Stop whining, for Gaia’s sake. Your fate was never to become a Greek myth in the Mortal Realm. We all have hard enough roles to play in actual life, Atlanta. I know because I’m Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory. I forget nothing, which is why I reminded your father two years ago that to beat the curse of mortality he’s brought down on us, he was going to have to make amends to all the females he’s wronged, including the Fates… and you. He finally believed me this week, so I need you to release your resentment and do what you were born to do, which is to fix this. Now is your time to step up. Do not spit into the wind because you’re angry. All you’ll get for it is a face full of your own spit.”
“How can my dreadful father make amends to all the females, Mother? He can’t, and do you know why? Zeus can’t raise my birth mother from the dead and apologize for murdering her.”
My secret desire to kill my father for what he did to my mother was something I didn’t share with just anyone—not even the Muses who I’d practically helped raise. Only my adopted mother knew that sordid truth.
Then it hit me. “Let me guess what really happened this week, Mother. The once-mighty Zeus finally aged so much that he couldn’t get his man junk up.”
I grunted again. “Go ahead. Tell me I’m wrong.”
The silence on the other end of the call was so loud I could hear my adopted mother’s nervous heartbeat.
Why should I bother to listen to a man who’d abandoned me to a destiny that I always knew wasn’t mine? Zeus had never cared one bit about me or my life or the emotional scars he’d given me. I didn’t consider him to be any kind of father at all, and far as I was concerned, I got along just fine without him and his god-drama. I intended to go to my fully mortal grave, never caring.
“I took you in because I knew you would one day be the key to the survival of the God Realm. Zeus created it, but you’re the one meant to save it. You’re like Zeus far more than you know, Atlanta.”
“No, Mother. I’m nothing like him. All men suck. Even the one I loved.”
“The man you loved was a mortal soldier who loved his cause far more than he could ever love a female. You must accept that the past cannot be changed and move on.”
“Yes, he was an exceptionally good Roman soldier, thanks to me. But Cleopatra lured him away. I get it, Mother. She won, and I didn’t—end of story. See? I have moved on.”
“No. You grieve him still, which is an enormous waste of energy over so many centuries. I don’t enjoy pointing out your petty revenge to you, but who else is there to do it? As a goddess, especially the Roman one you were pretending to be, you could have saved Mark Antony’s life if you’d wanted to. You might be happier with yourself all these centuries later if you’d helped him live out his short mortal life. But you didn’t do that, Atlanta. You manifested the worst possible destiny with a lover, which is why you had to watch him die in another woman’s arms.”
“You’re wrong. I tried my best to save him. Mark informed me multiple times that we were over. He simply didn’t want to live without Cleopatra, so I stepped out of the picture and let him die for her. Men suck, and love sucks too. That’s the sad end of Goddess Atlanta’s one and only love story.”
“Everyone alive—mortal or god—is living with some mistake from the past. Trust me, I know. Regardless of how things ended with Mark Antony, it’s time to put your painful memories away. Your story is far from over, child.”
Atlanta laughed. “That’s not the truth, Mother. In the mortal realm, I’m forty and half-dead already. Stop cheerleading. It’s not helpful. Neither is reminding me that the only man I ever loved never loved me back.”
“The mortal you loved was simply the wrong person for you, Atlanta. When the right person comes along, he’ll be devoted to you.”
“Are you aware of the statistics concerning mortal women falling in love and marrying once they’re over 40? No one is coming along to love me at this age, Mother.”
“You’re being ridiculous. I still take lovers.”
“You might, but I don’t.” Oh, I used to get the urge to bed a man now and again, but I’ve lost even that now. Gaia’s retired owl and a leprechaun from a different pantheon are the only creatures who share my life. And this is all thanks to the man you’re still trying to protect from suffering the consequences of his selfish actions.
“Please, daughter… just talk to your father. Talk to him before it’s too late for all of us. If Zeus dies, all the gods die. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes, and thanks for that additional serving of guilt. It was one more thing I didn’t need today.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t better at helping you understand your life’s purpose. One day you’ll thank me for what I’m telling you now.”
“Okay. Sure. Someone just came into the office, Mother. Talk to you soon,” I promised before quickly disconnecting.
I was forty in mortal years and looked it. My adopted mother was one of the original gods, so her power was hanging in there better than the gods and goddesses of my generation. Mnemosyne, the Goddess of Memory, looked no more than fifty, and some days she looked way younger than me.
Mnemosyne kept an assortment of men in her life who willingly entertained her when she was in the mood for a bed partner. She’d never lacked for male company that I could ever remember. Gaia knew, when the nine Muses were still small children, I did a lot of babysitting during Mother’s evenings out.
If she’d moved on from her past, why was she always defending Zeus, who’d got her knocked up with nine babies and then merrily moved on to fill up the next womb he found empty?
Putting my face in my hands, I groaned at the unfairness and the craziness of my family. There was nothing sadder than a forty-year-old mortal woman who couldn’t stop feeling sorry for herself, except maybe an aging goddess losing her power.
“First order of business today is that Cale Drakon recently decided that he wants to become a poet.”
I paused in my explanation to glare at my nine groaning siblings. My gaze narrowed as it took in the entire conference table and all the aging females who sat at it.
Though born at the same time through some sort of magical c-section I hadn’t been allowed to observe, each of the nine Muses appeared as a unique mortal woman in their early thirties. Each Muse’s clothing choices reflected what age she considered herself, a circumstance which sometimes challenged the professional atmosphere I worked so hard to create and maintain. When a new line or wrinkle appeared, my no boob or butt-cheek flashing rule got strained to the limit.
“Do I need to remind you that good wrinkle creams are not cheap, not even when we buy in bulk? I may be forty in mortal years, but all of you are only a few years behind me. I know you all think Mr. Drakon is an epic nerd, but the man pays his bills on time. So, if he wants to become a poet, then using the power of your ancestors, one or more of you will turn him into one. Are we clear on the matter?”
“Technically, Atlanta, you’re way older than we are—like a whole missed childhood older from what Mother said,” Tally pointed out with a smile. “She said you were born from Daddy’s head splitting open and that you grew up in a single day. The nine of us were all born as babies, and she said we took many years to grow up. Think about it. For all we know, you could be really, really old—like sixty in mortal years.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to spill the truth, but I’d promised Mother never to tell them. Between immortals, breaking a promise was the surest way to lose your powers for a century or two. The Fates always monitored everyone and knew everything, so I said nothing to correct my younger siblings’ misconceptions about my birth.
The myth applied to Athena’s birth too, but no one even knew she’d been a twin. Zeus kept his other gazillion children completely in the dark about me, which gave me one more reason to hate him. But I also hated that the sisters I had to see all the time believed some ridiculous lie about Athena and me springing full-grown from my father’s stupid head. I mean, Gaia forbid nine grown-up goddesses to find out their father murdered the owner of the womb that carried two of his most powerful children.
I held Tally’s amused gaze until she looked away. They knew better than to try to win. “You may be the Muse of Comedy, Thalia, but mythology is not a laughing matter. For everyone in this room, it’s actual history. Maybe you need to keep that in mind.”
Tally lifted a shoulder. “What can I say? Your reaction is always funny. You’re so tense all the time. How many centuries has it been since the unforgettable Mark Antony died and left you lover-less? I forgot when Rome conquered Egypt. Memorizing dates of things that happened in the Mortal Realm was never my thing.”
My adopted sisters—well, technically half-sisters—weren’t the deepest thinkers in our gene pool outside of their work, but killing even one of them was out of the question. Yes, killing Tally was my first instinct when she insulted me and my poor dormant libido. Fortunately for my irreverent sibling, I’d gotten a lot of practice in the Mortal Realm at not giving in to my destructive urges. Since I wasn’t born a Muse, I needed all nine of my sometimes thoughtless siblings to keep our business thriving.
So instead of killing Tally, I restricted myself to glaring when the rest of my sisters laughed at her mean teasing. But I seriously gave that glare all I had. They were lucky I had thick skin. Ignoring all my sisters’ shared amusement over the deep emotional pain I still carried around, I moved on to handing out our other assignments.
“Callie and Era, the poet job will go to one or both of you. Mr. Drakon’s email didn’t say what kind of poetry he wanted to write or why he got the sudden urge to be creative. I want you both to meet with him next Monday during his appointment. Afterward, we’ll decide which of you best fits his needs or if it needs to be a team effort.”
I checked the rest of my job sheet despite everyone in the room grumbling and hissing at each other over work. I was used to dealing with dissension when it came to Muse assignments. My war training came in handy at times like this. My sisters owed their lives to Kal’s training and the practice I got working with the Roman Legion.
“We have an opera singer for Terri to work with and a dancer for Twerky to inspire.” I lifted my gaze to stare at Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance. “Ms. Davis does ballet, Twerky. No teaching her dry-humping moves. Ms. Davis better be as graceful as a swan when you finish with her.”
Twerky didn’t argue with me because embarrassment was her preferred form of rebellion. She stood up and made a few jerky moves with her hips to make her sisters laugh. Trying to get a bunch of muses to be serious for over fifteen minutes was nearly impossible. Shaking my head in resignation, I hurried to finish before the rest lost focus.
“Urania is off next week.”
“It’s for research. I’m going to Greece to watch a meteor shower,” Urania explained to the inquiring gazes suddenly directed her way.
I looked at the far end of the table. “Last but not least—Mellie and Clio are manning the front office and finishing the research I gave them. Excuses and delays will result in them being omitted from the next distribution of cosmetics and skin cream.”
“That’s not fair. We’ve been looking for months already. You’re not even sure you understand the message,” Clio exclaimed.
“And you’re especially not sure it’s a tragic prophecy, so why should I be included in the research?” Mellie demanded.
I put both hands on the table as I leaned down and forward. It was my ‘end of rope’ move and my siblings knew it. Nine giggling women stopped to stare at me in alarm.
“We’re losing our powers, people. We’re aging like mortals, which means soon your faces will start melting the way mine already has, according to you crones. This means all of you will help me research whatever I need you to until we figure out what’s going on and how to fix it.”
“Maybe this is just the Fates testing us. They have a strange sense of humor,” Tally said with a grin.
I snorted as I stared at her. “Your mother is aging, Tally. Even our worthless father is aging. When Clotho visited me this year, her boobs were practically on the floor. Is this what you want to happen?”
“Listen to your older sister, girls. Atlanta’s right,” a sexy male voice said from the doorway.
My gaze shifted to the intruder. Mother was right. My birth father’s hair was streaked with silver, and his face was a bit more wrinkled than I recalled it being a few centuries ago.
His body, though, still looked like he bench-pressed cars in his spare time. My father was over seven-foot-tall in his normal faux-mortal appearance, which explained my and Athena’s six foot plus heights. Mark Anthony had been six foot six. The physical similarities between the man I’d fallen for and my father were textbook in mortal terms. It was another reason to hate myself. At least Mark had left me for the sake of true love instead of just to roll in the sheets with a new stranger.
“Daddy!” all nine Muses happily squealed before bounding from their seats to go hug him. I watched them hugging and cuddling with disgust. How ironic was it that the Goddess of Memory had forgotten to tell me that Zeus was stopping by whether or not I called him back?
“I need to talk with Atlanta alone for a bit,” Zeus said as he touched all nine smiling faces with loving fingers. “Why don’t you girls run to the coffee shop down the street for a break? Bring me back a double espresso and get a decaf for Atlanta. Your sister needs no more caffeine today. She seems a little tense.”
Nine girls giggling might sound like part of a hokey winter holiday song, but to me, it meant all our work was done for the day—and maybe even tomorrow if Zeus stuck around.
I promptly decided the nine of them were getting the travel size wrinkle cream the next time I placed a bulk order. No full sizes or super sizes for any of them until they started pulling their weight.
“I’ve been trying to get in touch with you, Atlanta,” Zeus said, breaking the quiet that descended after all nine Muses left to fetch him coffee.
I gathered up my computer tablet, my pen, and my hand-written notes about clients. “Wow, I didn’t realize you knew my actual name. I thought I was simply not-Athena.”
My father gave an exaggerated sigh as he walked to sit at the abandoned conference table. I didn’t give a flip if I’d hurt his feelings. Why should I? He never minding hurting mine.
“We’ve run out of time for sparring, daughter.”
I lifted an eyebrow at his calm, fatherly tone. Chuckling, I waved a hand between us. “This? This is not sparring. This is a meaningless conversation that accomplishes nothing, just like the other eight brief conversations we’ve had over the many centuries of my alleged non-existence.”
Zeus blew out a breath. “Still holding a grudge, I see. I guess becoming mortal hasn’t softened your edges. I understand that because it hasn’t softened mine either. However, I hoped the mortal aging process might mellow you out a bit.”
“Not at all. Unlike most that you’ve duped, I’ve known all along that my aging is your own fault.”
I watched him look away and saw his face flush with irritation. Was my resistance to his will lightning bolt worthy? I kind of hoped so because it would give me a legitimate excuse to retaliate. We’d wipe each other out and go on to the great void where I would no longer have to worry about anything. It wasn’t exactly a death wish, but it might have been close. I was tired of dealing with all this shit and of feeling guilty for sins my father had committed.
Zeus lifted a shoulder. “I can’t help that the Fates told you. I only told Athena about the prophecy this week. Like you, I thought it was all malarkey those old witches made up. Their mother, Nyx, never did like me much. Who knows what that old bat put into motion with those crone daughters of hers?”
I gave a dry laugh and rolled my eyes. “Of course, you told Athena about the problem before coming here to see the abandoned and forgotten child of Zeus that the Fates have been visiting for years.”
“Athena has the right training and understands what’s at stake. She’s trained many champions over the years. She would be an excellent person to do what must be done.”
So might I if I was inclined to help the selfish, manipulative man who’d created me, but only the Fates and my adopted Mother knew that truth. Guess they never told my father about the Romans, even after they’d threatened to tell everyone if I ever got that involved with mortal warfare again. I wasn’t about to give Zeus any satisfaction. Athena could have all the glory—again and again and again.
“I’m sure my Warrior Goddess twin was more than willing to help her beloved father save the day once again. Why are you here bothering me since it’s obvious Athena’s still your first choice for everything?”
When Zeus glared at me, my scalp tingled. The power that hadn’t been present during my training session with Kal suddenly rushed to cover my body and shield me. I was very grateful to know my conservation efforts were paying off.
“I tried to imbue Athena with my hidden powers. Unfortunately, the transfer didn’t take.”
I made a face and tried to chase the awful image from my brain. “Eww… she’s your daughter. That’s gross, even for a man with your lack of discretion. The distant cousin thing I might understand.”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Zeus demanded, his face flushing bright red. “You know that’s not what I meant. I meant that Athena’s powers and mine are incompatible. The prophecy pointed to the second child being the one with enough power to overthrow me, but it also mentioned a boy. I’ve been confused about you since you were born, Atlanta. Today, I think I figured out why. Do you prefer to bed females instead of males? Maybe that’s what messed me up when you were born.”
I forced myself to take three deep breaths before I answered. Zeus was renowned for his bad temper, which was the one thing I knew for certain I’d inherited from him. Right now, anger made me ready to sacrifice everything to call down my own thunderbolt and zap Zeus from every realm of existence, even if it was the last thing I ever did.
But that would not be mature of me, and I was living a mature forty-year-old mortal woman’s life now. Last year, I’d decided to age as a mortal and to do so with great dignity. This meant I needed to react calmly and not hormonally today, no matter how fast my blood buzzed with anger whenever Zeus was near.
I lifted my chin and glared as I spat out my response. “I’m not sure being the second child by only a few seconds counts as being born second. Clotho told me I had hold of Athena’s heel as I left the womb. Did it occur to you that Athena may have charged in front of me and stole my birthright?”
Zeus grunted. “Don’t believe those old crones. There was no womb.”
I narrowed my eyes as they landed on Zeus’s stiff jaw. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m as gullible as the Muses just because their mother raised me. The Fates told me the truth about what happened the first time they came to visit. Are you saying the Fates lied to me, Father? Can I tell Clotho about your born from my head story next time she comes to recite the doomsday poem to me?”
Zeus lowered his gaze. “That story is a harmless fabrication that spares our people from knowing the Fates are not kind.”
“Or it’s simply the bald lie of a killer trying to cover up an ancient murder that’s come back to bite him on the old keester.”
“I took her life, but I did not murder your mother…” Zeus stopped.
I could see him counting to ten. I did it often myself. “Yes. You did.”
“You are not a good daughter,” he said.
“I’m not a gullible daughter either.” I paused for dramatic effect. “Let’s move on to the next point of contention. I’ve always preferred men. I’m not a lesbian simply because I’m older, still single, and have never been in a long-term relationship that lasted. That’s a cheap shot coming from someone who’s never been able to keep his man parts in his own pants for more than five minutes, not even after he got officially married to the hottest goddess in any realm.”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you, Atlanta. It’s just that every minor detail counts when it involves a prophecy about our future.”
Zeus picked lint off his expensive shirt as if he hadn’t heard my insults about his manhood.
“You look like a boy in those pants and tunics you wear, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with full makeup on. How was I supposed to know you liked men? How could anyone know your preferences? I bet you get propositioned by far more women than men.”
He was wrong, but I didn’t owe him any explanation. Instead, I grunted with all the pent-up indignation I possessed just to irritate him. “If you’re finished insulting my appearance, my sexuality, and how I express my gender, I’m going home for the day. There’s not much else to do when all my workers are out fetching you a coffee, like good little daughters.”
“I’m your father too, Atlanta. You will also do as I say. You will stay here and talk to me until we are done.”
I fought not to use the last of my power to call my favorite spear. “You may be my father by accident of birth, but I barely know you. And what I know, I don’t like. If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to call Hera and tell your goddess wife that you’re visiting your long-lost second-born daughter behind her back. I bet she’d love to know you’ve been keeping my existence a secret from her all these years.”
Zeus threw back his head and yelled in frustration. When he brought his head forward again, his eyes sparked with lightning. The walls of my office building trembled. Truthfully, most gods would have been afraid for their lives. Maybe I should have been afraid too, but I simply wasn’t. I hated his guts, so his frustration delighted me. My own eyes sparked with lighting too when I was good and mad. I hoped they were sparking now.
Zeus slapped his hands on the conference table. “You want to hear me say it? Fine. I was wrong, Atlanta. I was wrong to want you to be a Muse when that wasn’t your true calling. But I’m not wrong in coming to you now. I’ve exhausted all other possibilities. You must be the child of the prophecy. Admit I’m right and take the power the Fates put in me for you. Your chosen champion has nine tasks to complete, and time is running out to get them done. If you don’t find him soon and help him get those tasks done, it’s going to be too late for all of us.”
I couldn’t stop myself from smirking. Now he needed me, but the joke was on him. I didn’t care. “Once, I was every bit as strong as Athena. To be part of your life, I would have done anything you asked of me, no matter how selfish or evil. Now I’m simply a forty-year-old, mostly mortal woman who has to live with a roommate to financially survive in the Mortal Realm. If I miraculously save our pantheon from becoming completely mortal, I’ll let Mother know, and she can pass on the big news to you. But I don’t want your reluctant help. Stay out of my life. That shouldn’t be too difficult for you since you’re such a pro at not caring about me.”
“Atlanta, I’m asking you not to make me beg. I don’t beg well,” Zeus warned.
I glared for all I was worth. “Are you not hearing me? I hate you and everything you stand for. I’ll work with the Fates. I’ll work with Mother. I’ll work with any other creature that exists, but I will never, ever work with you. You’re too late in trying to make amends with me. You mean less than nothing to me now, which I guess finally makes us even. Go away and leave me alone before your death becomes the first thing I do to save us all.”