by Stephannie Beman
Series: Children of Khaos, Gods of Love
Genre: Fantasy Erotic Romance
Hephaestus is less than pleased when his father Zeus comes to him with a request: Marry Aphrodite. But what the King of the Gods commands of him, Hephaestus will do, even if it’s being tied to Aphrodite for eternity. Now he is stuck with a beautiful, sexual goddess who is in love with his brother Ares.
When Aphrodite is order by the King of the Olympians that she will marry the grouchy, crippled Hephaestus and remain faithful to her marriage vows or inhabit a cell in Tartarus, she has little choice except to follow Zeus’ demands. But her objections to the marriage are not the reasons everyone believes them to be.
Loving the Goddess of Love Excerpt by Stephannie Beman
“YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!”
Aphrodite started at the sudden outburst, nearly slicing her finger with the pruning knife. Closing her eyes, she prayed to Khaos for the patience not to strangle Hermes. She couldn’t handle another tiresome and pointless moaning session with Hermes as he cried over the loss of some knickknack or a woman. The god acted like an impossible, spoiled child instead of a man of a hundred and ten.
Setting the pruning knife on her gardening table with care, she took a deep breath and glanced at Hermes. “Why must I?”
Hermes sat on the cream marble bench Hephaestus had carved for her, wringing his hands like an old woman. “I can’t take this anymore!”
She sighed. It was to be one of those days.
Like the adolescent he so resembled, Hermes was a volatile and pretentious god who knew he had a captive audience. Damn Zeus for placing her in this situation!
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
He glared at her. His annoying theatrics were only starting. “I must have her, Aphie!”
She almost ordered the self-centered brat out of her rooms. She hated the pet name more than his whining. Most of the gods had adopted the pet name after baby Phobos used it sixty-years ago. It was adorable when a child of two used it. It was annoying when everyone else did.
The only reasons she boot him out the door had more to do with Zeus’ command to learn what was bothering his darling son and deal with it. Sadly, it wasn’t a command she could disobey. Zeus’ displeasure at this crucial juncture of the war would be most unpleasant.
Besides, her damnable conscience wouldn’t let her. Hermes in love with a woman never turned out well. His desires were those of a powerful, selfish god.
“Do you love her, Hermes?” she asked although she knew the answer.
“Of course! I’ll die without her!”
Aphrodite restrained the snort of disbelief at the very dramatic, very human sentiment. He’d never die. It was too bad, because some days she’d like to murder him. Life without Hermes would be almost blissful. The next god to die would be Zeus for foisting his worthless hybrid son onto her.
“Make her fall in love with me!” he begged.
Sighing, she forced a smile onto her face. It always came to this. At one time or another, every god or goddess came to her and professed their undying love. Why did they think she could force another to love them? She wasn’t a Cherub.
She’d known enough of the innocent looking, mischievous daemons over the years to know that she didn’t have enough in common with them. They had the power to make two people fall madly in love. They were all about creating a loving environment so they could feast off the sexual energy of the couple. She couldn’t either of those things.
Even had she wanted to, even if there had been an ounce of love in the girl’s heart for Hermes, she wouldn’t do it. Every single god and goddess who came to her about love, forgot that love the second another came along who was more beautiful or handsome. It didn’t matter if they were Olympians or Titans. In the end, they were all the same.
Hermes was no different. He was probably one of the worst. Apollo would be a close second.
And the love of a fickle god was a death sentence.
“If you won’t do it, I’ll get one of the Cherubs to.”
Aphrodite shrugged. “I’m sure that would work,” she said, the sarcasm dripping from her lips.
Hermes was an idiot if he thought the Cherubs would bow to his whims. He was more likely to find himself in love with some poor centaur or a hag. While humorous, his temper would not improve and Zeus would blame her.
What she need was distraction, something to take his mind off the woman he professed admire, but his devotion wouldn’t make it past the next coupling. She was a vessel, a lustful obsession for him slack his insatiable appetite upon. He would use her and abandoned her.
Unless. . . Something within her shivered to life, slithering up from the depths of her soul. She could be his distraction. She could make him forget.
While she wasn’t looking forward to being used by Hermes’, she wasn’t adverse to it either. She’d had, by far, worse lovers hurled her direction. She could play the part to save the unknown woman from an all too familiar fate.
She glided toward him. Her hips swaying. Her caressing fingers drawing his gaze from her face, down her neck, to the place where her heart thundered. “Does she make your heart ache?”
His baby blue eyes stared at her overly abundant, and barely concealed, cleavage. “Yes!”
Her fingers continued their journey between her breasts, over her ribs, and down her curvy hip. “Your body wants her? Burning with a need to bury yourself deep inside her?”
His eyes followed her wandering hand down her curvy body to the apex of her thighs, and then dropped down to the healthy length of her shapely legs revealed by each step of the swirling skirt. “Yes! Yes!”
She leaned forward. Hermes had never been her favorite lover among the Olympians. He had no finesse, no stamina, but he was the most passionate and easiest to fool. Already, his love for the nameless mortal was shifting to her.
His eyes focused on her breasts again. Waves of his desire slammed into her, hot and needy.
The beast driving her howled, triumphant. “You would do anything to have this woman?”
His hands curled into fists, pressing into the ivy scroll work of the marble bench. “YES!”
She arched a perfectly manicured eyebrow. Did he even know what he was agreeing to anymore? She doubted it. He was fixated on what she was offering him: damnation in the form of a woman.
Cupping his perfect baby face in her hands, she tilted his chin up, forcing it to an awkward angle. She felt his desire rise, swell, overcoming him. “Anything?” she stressed.
He pulled back and her nails bit into his flesh, forcing him to stay still. His eyes burned with the fervor of his response, “YES!”
Aphrodite smiled. She should see how far his resolve went. But she knew it went as far as the next coupling. Hermes was a god forever trapped in an adolescent form and mentality. It made him rash and unthinking. It made him easy to manipulate.
“What was her name, Hermes?” Her breathy, husky voice sent him over the edge.
He rose from the bench, towering over her, crushing her to him. “Whose?”
She bared her teeth and raked her nails gently over his smooth cheek. Silly boy. He didn’t he understand what he was giving her, the power he was giving away.
By the time she was done, he would have forgotten about the hapless human. Thank Khaos for small favors. The mortal would be safe from him and her store of power would be replenished for a while longer.
Drawing his mouth down to meet hers, the chaste kiss sparked the connection she needed. His magic rose to meet hers, his passion like the sweetest fruit, full and succulent, like ripe mango and sweet apple.
She drank him in. She wove her magic into the swirling vortex of his lust, love, and power. She took what she needed most from him and gave him her body in payment.
His tongue probed her lips, seeking entrance, and she turned her head away. He licked a slimy trail over her cheek, sucking on her earlobe in a move meant to be sexy and just ended up being gross.
He pressed her back against the wall, his lips upon her neck and hands fondling her breasts. He was rough and impatient. He claimed her as if it was his right. In some ways it was.
Her body wasn’t her own. It hadn’t been for six hundred years. She was a slave to the whims of her master. A hatred so deep, a fury so hot, and a passion so unwavering burned through her heart, threatened to consume her if not for the cold piece of metal wrapped around her neck.
Closing her eyes, she drifted along the lines of magic, fostering his love and ignoring the ache in her heart. He sweated and strained against her, taking from her everything he wanted from a woman. She ignored every nerve in her body shrieking at her to fight back and destroy him. Instead she focused everything on that small spark of love he held for her. Then she waited until the moment he let go and spilled his seed inside her empty womb to draw the love from him.
It warmed her. It revitalized her power. It fed the part of her soul that was created in the union of love between Dione and her unknown father. And for one moment in time, it transported her back to that moment when she had encountered the purest love she had ever received or would ever receive from a man. For a single moment, the terrible gnawing ache that had become her existence, receded, and the hunger inside her was sedated.
She returned to herself with Hermes’ weight pressing her against the cold stone wall, chilling her to the bone. Bile rose in her throat. She shoved at his shoulder, forcing him to move.
Hermes released her and walked away, never seeing her pain. He headed for her bathing chamber rattling on about her choice in decor and the ungodly amount of plants she had. She turned her head and emptied the contents of her stomach into one of the potted plants.
Sliding down the wall, she wrapped her arms around her knees, and cried, soaking the bodice of her dress. She could never purge her body of what she’d done to survive Coronus’ world. She could never erase the stain she carried upon her soul.
The monster Coronus had tried so hard to create slithered to life in the darkness. If it was in her power, the creature would make him and every god on Olympus and Othyrs pay dearly for what they did to her. It would protect her.
Coronus’ sex slave, offered to Poseidon as a gift for his cooperation, and presented to Zeus as a prize in a wager between the brothers. She belonged to Zeus and his command to soothe his sons temper demanded she play her part.
By the time Hermes returned, Aphrodite was composed and pruning her favorite rose bush in the atrium. He slapped her rump on his way through the room. “Now that was good!”
Inside the creature snarled and cursed him, but outwardly she smiled. Her hand tightened around the blood red rose’s stem, the thorns bit deep into her palm, sharp and painful. “Always is.”
The door shut behind Hermes.
Aphrodite slammed the knife into the ancient oak tabletop, the blade biting deeply into the wood, and cursed fate that brought her to this moment.
Heading for the bathing chamber, she tore the dress from her body, and dropped it into the eternal fire burning brightly in the brazier. The golden-blue flames licked at the cloth and she watched her favorite dress burn. If only it was so easy to be rid of all her problems.
Emptying the bath, she refilled the pool and lowered herself into the fresh, scalding water. She grabbed a fistful of sand to scour Hermes from her flesh. When she felt clean enough, she drained the water and rinsed off in the waterfall, before refilling the pool with sea water. Sinking into the warm, almost magical water, she began the ritual of scrubbing every inch of flesh again. Maybe someday she would feel clean again. But she doubted it.
“You’re going to look awful funny without skin.”
She yelped and spun around, glaring at Poseidon. “Don’t you knock?!”
His black eyes bore into her, desiring and condemning her at the same time. “I did. No one answered.”
“So you decided to invite yourself in!”
He shrugged snatching a bath brush from the assortment of bathing supplies. “I saw Hermes leave and I thought you might need the company.”
She snorted. How well he thought he knew her. She’d never wanted male attention, or female companionship. She only wanted one man and he wanted nothing to do with her or the life she led. She couldn’t fault him for it.
She turned her back to Poseidon. It was a natural action. She’d been his sex slave for almost a century before he’d fallen in love with another. She hadn’t minded when their relationship ended. Poseidon was all wrong for her and she didn’t love him, but sometimes she missed him. He’d never asked more than he thought she was willing to give him. He’d never demanded sex or command her to service his friends, at least not as others had.
Of course, Poseidon hadn’t known the collar that enslaved her to do his will or that Coronus had given her to him as part of her punishment. Coronus had hoped the boisterous and gruff Poseidon would break her. He’d never suspect his son to be a gentle lover and sensitive soul, or that the enslavement of the collar would move to Poseidon, removing her from his grasp.
Poseidon’s deft, strong fingers kneaded the knots from her shoulders. “Why are you so tense?”
“You deal with Hermes and Ares on a constant basis and see how tense you get,” she snapped, relaxing in the warm water with a satisfied sighed.
Maybe if Poseidon had known about the collar events would have turned out differently. Maybe he would have freed her or never demand she do his brother’s bidding and transfer ownership of the collar to Zeus. Or maybe things would have been worst.
The awkward silence stretched until she finally asked, “What do you want, Poseidon?”
She snorted. “What makes you think I’m the best person to give advice on anything?”
His fingers tightened on her flesh and she winced. “I need advice on something you are a bit of an expert on. Relationships?”
She almost laughed, barely keeping the humor of that request to herself. She couldn’t afford to invoke Poseidon’s legendary temper today. He’d never beaten her, even when angry, but there was always the first time, and she was so weak in the power department she could never defend herself against an attack.
Drawing away from him, she swam to the stairs, and climbed out of the pool. She didn’t miss Poseidon’s appreciative look or the flare of his need. She didn’t take the time to dry her skin and give him more of a show. She wrapped the thin, silky white robe around her naked body. The cloth clung to her wet skin becoming sheer in some places. She cringed and wished she had taken the time to dry herself. Too late now.
“Tell me about this woman,” she demanded, hoping the reminder of his love would distract his thoughts. She wasn’t about to service a second man today. First, his need held no love for her. Second, she hadn’t been commanded by Zeus to scratch his itch. Third, he wouldn’t be swayed from his love for his priestess by a roll on the ground with her.
“She’s a priestess in Athena’s Temple.”
She knew all about that, everyone on Olympus did, except the one person who would care, and no one dare tell her about the love affair. Athena’s temper was legendary and dangerous to all. She was more likely to kill the messenger, the cause of her pain, and anyone involved.
Aphrodite believed the betrothal between Poseidon and Athena to be ill-advised from the start. Political matches were rarely a love match. For Athena, it was love. For Poseidon, it could have been. He’d seen Medusa and from that moment on he was lost to Athena.
“I haven’t told her how I feel about her yet.”
Aphrodite nodded, leading him out of the steamy bathing room and into the seating area of her apartments. Aphrodite almost felt bad for Athena, but more so for the hapless priestess, because when Athena learned of Medusa’s betrayal with Poseidon, there was no force on this earth that could save the girl from Athena’s wrath.
“Is she mortal?” she asked.
“No. She’s one of the daughters of Ceto and Phorcys.”
“Graeae or Gorgon?”
Anger flashed on his face. “Gorgon!”
She did laugh then, but not at him. His eyes flashed dangerously and she was quick to explain. “Are you aware of how absurd this is? You want me to give you advice on relationships with a priestess of Athena. My track record with men is not the best. My longest relationship was with you!”
“I trust your opinion, Aphrodite. You’re honest and you don’t hold back.”
That statement was even more absurd. She held back a whole dam worth of information, all because the collar wouldn’t allow her to share the information she knew and no one had asked her the right question.
“Do you love her?”
“It’s not about me loving her; it’s about making her love me.”
If only he knew and she wasn’t about to enlighten him about Medusa’s visit to her a few days before. Poseidon was very much in love with the girl and Athena’s priestess was deeply in love with him. Athena would throw a bitch fit when she found out that her betrothed was snuggling up to one of her virgin priestesses.
“How did you do it, Aphrodite? How do you make us all love you?”
Love her? They didn’t love her, not really. They loved what she could do with their love. They cared about her only so long as it didn’t interfere with their plans. But they didn’t love her. They couldn’t. No one could, because they didn’t know the truth about her and if they did, she would be imprisoned and used time and time against their enemies. Just as their father Coronus had done. As for her, she couldn’t love them because her heart was taken by the one man she would never touch again.
“You never really loved me, Poseidon.” She cupped his cheek in her palm. “Making someone love you only leads to heartache, because in the end everything is built on a lie.”
Poseidon placed his hand over hers. “I know what I saw in Coronus’ lair. The Titans were infatuated with you. Hermes left here a moonstruck youth. You can’t tell me that they didn’t love you!”
She shook her head, drawing her hand out from beneath his. “Lust. Not love. Hermes loves no one except himself. He loves the idea of love. He loves that someone may love him more than he does.”
His eyes narrowed on her face. “What do you gain by your relationships with us?”
She laughed. “Besides sex? A little amusement. Eternity is a long time when you have nothing else to do.”
He gave her a blank look.
“You do remember Zeus’ edict when I first came here? After I beat Athena at weaving and she complained to her father? I can do no task, but that which has been assigned me specifically. No more loom. No more pottery. No more fighting. No more poetry. Nothing unless it pertains to love or sex.”
“Didn’t he!” She held up her hand forestalling him. “Think before you speak another word. What does Zeus do to those who disobey him? What does he do to those who cross his little Athena? Be wary, Poseidon. Zeus would never raise his hand against you. But your Gorgon lover will be the one to pay when Athena learns of her.”
“What does Athena have to do with this?”
“She’s your betrothed, or have you forgotten? You are about to take what is hers. You are about to disgrace one of her priestesses. Whatever your intentions are for the Gorgon, be sure they are honorable. Protect her, Poseidon, because Zeus adores his daughter and when she comes to him, demanding satisfaction, he will give it to her. Your lover will suffer in ways you could never imagine.” She turned her back on him. “Now, get out!”
She didn’t wait for him to leave. She walked away from him.
Entering her dressing room, she closed the door and threw the lock. Her wards closed tight behind her. No one could enter without her permission. And she would never give it.
If anyone knew of the magic guarding her wardrobe they would mistakenly believe it was to protect the treasures locked inside. They would be wrong. Her greatest treasure wasn’t in this room.
Stripping off the robe, she stepped around the large copper mirror and opened the heavily warded door hidden beneath the rich clothes. She walked through it and into her villa by the sea, transported hundreds of miles from Mount Olympus in a second.
She’d created the villa when she’d first been freed from Coronus lair in a place that held happy memories of childhood, and allowed no one here. This was her sanctuary; free from the horrors of her life. It was a place where she could escape for a time. She’d linked her rooms on Mount Olympus to the Villa when she still had the power to do such things. Something that would be impossible for her to do now.
Sheer creamy cloth hung from the ceiling around the room, softening the stark white marble and dividing the room into parts. Three of the four walls were lined with bookcases, filled to overflowing with tomes and scrolls of writing, stories and histories. Her loom sat against the bare wall with the half finished tapestry on it.
A single bed sat in the corner, big enough to fit three big men, but had never enjoyed more than her presence in it. Unlike the bed she had in Olympus, this bed had a simple, dark wood frame with creamy white sheets, blankets, and pillows.
Heading for the bed, she curled up in the soft center and prayed tomorrow would be better. Her only joy of the day was saving another from a future that always ended in death, if she was lucky, or exile, bitterness, and a bastard child if she wasn’t. She prayed Hermes would never remember the mortal he so wanted. She prayed the girl would live a long and happy life. That she would find love and have children and die of old age.
She prayed that Poseidon would see the error of his love for Medusa and honor his promise to his betrothed. That Athena would never know about the love triangle she was part of and that the Gorgon Medusa would wisely turn from her foolish path.
She prayed that an end would come to her own sordid life.
Her eyes drifted close with the thoughts of her first love. Did he still remember her? Or had five hundred years been too long? Would she ever feel his arms around her again?
She fell asleep with thoughts of her lover’s strong arms wrapping around her. His deep voice in her ear, whispering that there was nothing to forgive, that no matter what had happened in her past, she was not to blame and that he loved her still.
HEPHAESTUS LIMPED INTO THE OPULENT palace on Mount Olympus and cringed. He should have changed or bathed before he came. He felt like a shit-covered stable boy sneaking through the hallowed halls of the King’s palace to steal a few quick moments with the King’s daughter.
Only he wasn’t the stable boy and she was no King’s daughter.
He was the blacksmith of the gods and son of the king and she was…well, he wasn’t sure who Aphrodite was. Some said she was the daughter of a nymph and Titan. The gods referred to her as the Goddess of Love and Sex while the goddesses usually called her the Whore to the Gods. All he knew was there would be no kissing, no stolen moments, no sex, and little to no touching.
She was a beautiful with all the assets a man could desire in his woman, but unlike his brothers, uncles, and cousins, Hephaestus wasn’t into sharing his lover. If he was to ever have a relationship it would be with a woman who could commit to him and no one else. Aphrodite didn’t seem the type to want that connection with anyone.
He was here strictly because the moment he’d met her over a hundred years ago, she’d turned to Zeus and demanded his presence on Mount Olympus and a workshop for him. He’d never seen Zeus cave so quickly to a woman’s desire when he wasn’t sleeping with her. She’d then turned to Hephaestus with a smile to melt the hardest heart and formally requested his presence once a week so he could create some frivolous object she would probably never use or forget by the week’s end. Hephaestus was still surprised by his agreement.
Later, Zeus had made it very clear to him that his welcome at Mount Olympus was conditional. He practiced his craft for his patrons and he left when he was done. No loitering around the palace.
His father’s harsh words might have been more hurtful if Hephaestus lived here, but Mount Olympus wasn’t his home. For the brief days after his birth it might have been, but it had been centuries since that day. His childhood home was a grotto, his mother Thetis, and his playmates the nymphs.
Movement to his right brought his attention to the door of the Great Hall. Three of the devastatingly beautiful Graces peeked out at him. He squelched the childish urge to yell “boo!” Not that it mattered. The Graces screamed and darted away as if he was going to chase after them and ravish them on the floor of the assembly hall. Thank you, but not in a million years!
Heading down the left hallway to his hideaway workroom, he opened the large wooden door to the cold musty chamber, and sighed. Using a little power, he moved the molecules in the air, instantly warming the room. If he was going to work on a statue of Aphrodite today, he didn’t think he could handle the sight of her perky cherry nipples hardening in the cool air. Actually he wasn’t sure he could handle a naked Aphrodite with her full breasts, narrow waist, curvy hips, pale blond triangle of curly hair hiding her pussy, or long shapely legs following him into his dreams again.
The desire to caress her milky white skin, so like the marble he carved her image from, and feel the warmth in it was maddening. As was the urge to brush his fingers through her golden hair, finer than spun gold, and see it curl around his fingers.
She was pure temptation in woman form, but he would never touch her in that way. First, he’d be a fool to think she’d accept his attentions when she had every male god in the palace eating out of her hand. Second, he wasn’t a masochist seeking to be humiliated by her rejection of his pursuit. Third, Aphrodite was another Olympian, cruel, flighty, and fickle who had never once showed a hint of interest in him. Although to be fair, she’d never showed a hint of disgust either.
“What are thinking about so hard?”
Hephaestus started at the sound of her voice, low and soothing, washing over him like liquid honey. A voice that invoked warm memories that tickled at the edges of his recollection and caused a stirring in his loins.
How had he failed to notice her standing behind his table of unclaimed items, an intricate silver goblet in her hand?
He hated people in his workshop and usually noticed immediately when someone had been in here. But he hadn’t noticed her and she was hard to miss in a stunning dress of scarlet silk wrapped artfully around her luscious body with a golden cord accentuating her narrow waist and ample cleavage. She didn’t blend into the monochromatic, chaos of his workshop. If anything, she was out of place, a splash of color among the various shades of white, gray, and gold.
He was also right. He couldn’t handle seeing her hardened nipples, with or without clothes.
She set the goblet on the table with something akin to reverence. “Sorry. You weren’t here and I didn’t think you’d mind if—”
“I don’t,” he grumbled gruffly, thrown off by her sensual presence. It was always the same. He felt drawn to her, ready to make a fool of himself and fearing the result. He wanted so much that which he could not have, that which had been denied him. “Take what you want on the table.”
She bit her full bottom lip, staring at him with those liquid blue eyes, looking like she wanted to say something.
He waited, wondering at the sadness in her startling blue eyes. Everything in him urged him to go to her, to hold her and soothe her, until she forgot everyone else in her life. He shouldn’t be alone with her.
“So what can I do for you today?” He cringed at the gruff growl in his voice and turned away, setting his tool kit on the table with a loud clunk. He winced at his treatment of his tools. They didn’t deserve the abuse because he was acting like an infatuated boy.
How did being around such a beautiful woman place him on edge? It wasn’t as if she was antagonizing him as Athena or Hera would. She wasn’t doing anything except giving him that searching look.
When she didn’t answer, he glanced at her. “Did you need something? A new statue?”
She stared at him with something akin to longing, or at least he deluded himself into thinking so for a few seconds. She was probably looking at the statue of her lover Ares on the other side of the table and he was in the way.
She chuckled quietly and shook her head. “I changed my mind. We’ll do the statue another day. Could you please make me a necklace to go with this outfit?”
He swallowed hard and nodded. Grabbing his measuring string and tablet, he walked toward her. He expected her to flinch away when he drew near her, but she didn’t.
Her chin tilted upward so she could look at him and she twisted the curly length of her hair around her hand and piled it atop her head, securing it in place with a golden comb he’d made for her. If she were his birthmother, Hera, or sister, Athena, he could believe her actions were a challenge or an act to hide her reaction to his presence.
Aphrodite was no different than the others, he reminded himself. She’d always been decent to him, but there was always that thought in the back of his mind that she had an ulterior motive for being nice. Probably hoping he would make her something extra pretty.
However, she didn’t freeze when he came close or scrunch up her nose at the smell of sweat on his skin. She didn’t flinch when he stepped closer or get mad that his sooty apron would ruin her dress. She didn’t step away. She watched him with a curious type of openness and trust.
This was the closest he’d ever been to touching her or any woman on Mount Olympus. Women usually avoided him, only coming to him for his craftsmanship. They never allowed him to measure them for a necklace, preferring instead to give him the measurements and complain when it wasn’t right. It wasn’t his fault, but there was no telling them that.
Placing the knotted end of the string against the back of her neck, his hand brushed over her skin. He tried to ignore the scent of lilacs and honeysuckle. She smiled up at him, brightening the whole room.
“Any ideas about what you want?” he asked, embarrassed by the uneven gruffness in his voice.
“I’ll leave that to you.” Her breath whispered over his calloused palm. “Your work is exceptional.”
He shivered, warmed and annoyed by her comment. He wasn’t sure if she was playing with him, or if she didn’t understand her effect on him. Either way, he needed to get away from her. “I need to get back to work.” He tied a knot at the midpoint above the intersection of her collarbones. “When do you need your necklace?”
Her blue eyes met his and she smiled. “When you’re done.”
The door opened, slamming against the statue of Apollo with an audible crack. Hephaestus’ fingers brushed against something cold upon her neck. He would have sworn it was metal, except she wasn’t wearing any jewelry. Now that he thought about it, she never wore any jewelry. She preferred the simplicity of unadornment and intricately wrapped dresses that revealed almost as much as they hid.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” he said, glad that his voice remained steady despite the unsteadiness of his hand. He might have asked Aphrodite about it, but he was very aware of the angry presence behind him.
“You’re such a whore!” Hera hissed behind him.
He glanced over his shoulder at Hera standing in the doorway. Her pale hands fisted on her hips and her icy gaze upon them, condemning them both for a crime they had not committed. His skin itched and warmed. He wanted to move away from Aphrodite, but he refused to act like a guilty husband caught in a comprising situation.
“Can I help you, mother?” he asked, writing the notations on his tablet.
“You’d sleep with anything male!”
Aphrodite flinched as if struck. Her eyes met his, and for a brief second he saw pure terror in their depths before she masked it behind one of her smiles and stepped around him to face Hera. “You’re such a bitch, Hera. Why can’t you just be happy for your son?”
Turning to face his mother, he mentally prepared himself for the confrontation that was coming. Hera was looking at Aphrodite with narrowed eyes and hissing like a cat. Hera was furious over something. He had a feeling that it was something to do with Zeus. Since he was probably hiding, Hera had sought out her two least favorite people on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus and Aphrodite.
Hephaestus knew the warning signs, and something in him rose to protect Aphrodite. “Stop it! This is my workshop and I’ll not have you fighting in it.” Both women turned to him. Hephaestus lifted the tablet and directed his words toward Aphrodite. “I have your measurements and I’ll finish your necklace after my other orders are filled.”
She nodded. Touching his arm, she rose to her tippy toes, and kissed his cheek. Actually, she kissed the corner of his mouth, but he doubted she realized it. Or maybe she did and it was her way of getting back at Hera.
“Thank you, master smith,” she murmured, caressing his soot blackened arm.
While there was a flare of desire at her touch, there was also a curiosity of why she would behave this way. What did she gain? Was the kiss a charade, a veiled insult? Or was she using him as revenge for Hera’s comment? Was he a passing amusement for her? Someone she could play with and discard? With Aphrodite who could tell?
Aphrodite turned to leave, but paused on her way out the door. “Wherever did your son learn such good manners, Hera? It definitely was not from you or Zeus.”
She was gone before Hera could respond. Hephaestus turned away, hiding the smile on his face. It was rare and refreshing to see his mother speechless. It was funny that it had been Aphrodite who did it.
He set his tablet and string on his workbench, composing his expression, and turned back to Hera. “Did you need something, mother?”
She glared at his shoulder. “I despise that woman!”
“Aphrodite?” He shrugged and straightened as much as possible with his twisted hip. “She’s always been nice to me.”
“Because you’re male and she’s a whore! She’d sleep with a monster if it were male.”
He sighed. It was going to be one of those days. Hera was spoiling for a fight and he refused to fight her, not that he could win that fight. Hera barely registered his existence most days.
He quickly gathered some tools he’d left behind the last time he was here and placed them in his kit, then started to straighten up his workshop while he waited for Hera to get to the point of her visit. He planned to stay the night and head home after the meeting tomorrow, but right now he wanted nothing more than to be very far from this place.
“Have you slept with her?” Hera demanded.
His first inclination was to tell her no, but he knew Hera had already decided that he had and telling her no would solve nothing. “I don’t see where that is any of your business.”
“I’m your Mother, of course it’s my business! Did you sleep with that whore?”
He sighed, lifting Athena’s helmet from the bench. He needed to finish the etching, although he doubted Athena remembered she’d commissioned it. “Did you want something, Mother?”
“Don’t call me that!”
He ground his teeth. “Did you want something?”
“You slept with her!” Hera accused him. “She really will sleep with anything!”
Hephaestus flinched from the cruel remark. It hurt more than he thought possible. Though why, he wasn’t sure. He knew what his mother thought of him. Her opinion hadn’t changed since his birth. She looked down on him as lesser when she’d realized her son was imperfect. They all looked down upon him when they looked at him at all. Only Thetis and Rhea had ever looked beyond the scars and imperfections to the man inside.
“I thought she might have some standards, but really–”
She blinked and stared at him as if he was a peacock who had decided to speak. “What?”
He’d been insulted enough for one day. He was tired of her demands and putdowns. What did it matter if he had slept with Aphrodite? Ares did. So did Apollo and Hermes, although neither of them were her sons.
“You can’t speak to me that way! I’m your Mother!”
He rolled up his tool kit and grabbed the helmet. “When it suits you.”
He turned to her. “You’re my Mother when it suits you. When it doesn’t. . .” He shrugged and gathered his supplies. “Good day.”
He left her standing in his workshop, staring after him with her mouth hanging open. He felt the slightest twinge of guilt, but it was overshadowed by the elation of standing up to her. Some might wonder why he wasn’t more disgusted by Hera who was clearly disgusted by him, or hate her for all the abuse she’d heaped upon his shoulders over the centuries. Some might wonder why he bore her rejection.
The truth was, all he wanted from the woman who’d given him birth, was one word of kindness. He’d long ago given up hope that she would love or acceptance him. He knew she would never look at him as she looked at Ares. She only meddled in his life because she had to control everyone around her. He didn’t want to be another one of her pawns. He wanted to be her son.
But he’d never get anything more from her then degradation and revulsion. She was too focused on the perfection of her world and making everything fit into that world as she would have it. There was no place for him in Hera’s reality.
He would be a fool to think any of them would accept him for who he was. He would never be as handsome as Ares, Apollo, or Hermes and they couldn’t see beyond the physical to the man beneath. They couldn’t tolerate imperfection and he pitied them their small world. If not for his smith craft, they would have cast him from Mount Olympus a second time.
He was only here because they needed him. But he didn’t need them. He could walk away from this place today and not miss a single one of them.
APHRODITE CLOSED THE DOOR TO Hephaestus’ workshop and took a few shaky steps forward. The bitch! How could she be so cruel?! Hephaestus was her son!
Aphrodite loved every one of her children, even the twins, Phobos and Deimos, who’d taken after their father’s war-like habits. They rode in Ares’ chariot every moment they could and there was nothing she could do or would do about it. They were happy. They were also sixty-years-old now and not the twenty-year-old men they appeared to be.
She would never have treated her children like Hera treated Hephaestus. He was a good man, gentle and kind. He didn’t deserve Hera’s disgust. Hera should be the one protecting her son, not tearing out his heart and stomping on it.
Had she acted any better? His face remained an impassive mask, but his golden eyes showed how bad Hera’s words hurt and she’d lashed out at Hera. She’d used Hephaestus as a mere prop to taunt his mother and proven herself no better than the others who looked down upon him.
Then she’d kissed him and known her mistake too late. His eyes had flared with desire and a single question. Why?
Why had she kissed him? Was it because she was mocking him as all the others did or was it because she was using him to goad Hera? Was she insulting him with her kiss, throwing in his face that he would never have her, or was there more to it? Was she playing with him?
Wouldn’t he be surprised if he knew the truth? Although he’d probably laugh at her foolishness or think she was making fun of him.
Fleeing down the halls of Mount Olympus, silent tears streaming down her face and blurring her vision, she cried for what would never be. The truth would not set anyone free, it would only bring more scorn and disdain upon all those involved from those who could not understand.
She ducked into a hidden alcove, blinking furiously and wiping the tears from her cheeks. She hoped no one had seen her blind flight from Hephaestus’ chamber, because there was no way for her to explain that Hera’s cruel words to Hephaestus hurt her heart more than anything Hera could possibly say to her. How could a mother be so mean to her own son?
“What were you thinking!” a woman shrieked.
Aphrodite started and drew deeper into the shadowed alcove.
A man mumbled a reply.
Their voices were closer than she would have liked. She was tempted to make a run for it, but she didn’t know where they were or if she would make it without being seen. It would be better to remain and hope they didn’t find her.
“You idiot!” the woman continued, her voice moving closer. “He should have been left where he was!”
“I didn’t know who he was!” Zeus whined.
“Did you even think to ask?!”
Aphrodite shook her head. What a dumb question. Zeus thought he knew everything and never asked for clarification. He commanded without thought and hoped for the best.
“Don’t answer that. What about you, Poseidon?”
“It wasn’t my decision—”
“He listens to you!”
Poseidon’s deep voice rumbled a reply Aphrodite couldn’t quite catch. He was probably hoping to soften the repercussions from whatever it was he said.
“You know better than to listen to her!” There was the sound of fleeing feet and breaking glass. “Did it ever occur to you idiots that maybe he belonged in Tartarus? That not everyone that our father imprisoned was wrongfully imprisoned?!”
“Now, Demeter,” Zeus cajoled, “we just wanted to end this war and Eris and Rhea presented us with an option.”
Eris and Rhea? Since when had the two women become friends, or spoken civilly to the other? Aphrodite was certain Rhea hadn’t forgiven Eris for sleeping with Coronus, even though it had been over three-thousand-years ago.
“Rhea?” Demeter demanded. “You listened to Mother! Rhea is more deceptive than Coronus and Eris put together!”
Demeter had a point. Rhea was a meddlesome mother who knew how to get her children to do what she thought was best. If she’d teamed up with Eris, which seemed highly unlikely, then it was for only one purpose. The prisoner Zeus and Poseidon had freed from Tartarus could be no other than Eris’ prized pupil Hades.
Aphrodite found herself smiling. She liked Hades. He wasn’t like most the gods or daemons. He was different. Of course, she’d been different person when they’d last met.
Her mother, Dione had once been under his protection, a nymph fleeing the wrath of her child’s father. They remained with him until Aphrodite’s fifth birth year, when Dione returned to her people by the southern sea. Hades had given Aphrodite an oyster with a pearl in it as farewell present.
“That’s not fair.” Poseidon’s protest was muffled and Aphrodite wondered if he was hiding behind something. With Demeter’s temper it was possible. “We want an end to the war!”
“You released a very dangerous criminal into the world! He’s more dangerous than any of the monsters he released from Tartarus.”
Hades had released some of Tartarus’ monsters? That didn’t sound good.
“And on top of it all, you promised him a kingdom and a wife from among your daughters. Who exactly do you plan to tether to that monster!”
Aphrodite winced. While it was possible that imprisonment in Tartarus could have changed Hades, she doubted it had made him into a monster. Yes, Hades was extremely dangerous, but he’d never hurt anyone out of malice. Any daughter of Zeus would be safe with him, because Hades would never touch them in the ways of man and woman. He’d never do to another woman what he’d done to Menthe so many centuries ago. He would never risk killing a woman with a mere kiss.
The daemon-god she remembered as a child had been kind. Everything he’d ever done in his life had been motivated by the need to protect, defend, or keep what was his.
The click of sandals on marble warned her she’d been there too long. Glancing around the alcove, she noticed the tiny door half hidden by the tapestry. Not willing to be caught eavesdropping, Aphrodite ducked into a side room.
Crossing the empty room, she opened the balcony door and stepped out into the afternoon sun, making a clean escape.
APHRODITE CUPPED HER HAND AROUND the large flowered head of the delicate pink hydrangea and lifted it to her face, breathing in the fresh, heady aroma. The hydrangea would make a lovely perfume for her to wear for…
She shook her head, halting the thought that would end in heartache. She had to accept that she’d lost the only person left in this world who made this life worth living. She had to see beyond the endless years stretching out before her, enslaved and forced to do her master’s bidding, and make the most of her life. There was nothing she could do to change her fate.
Lifting the small pruning knife from the basket, she laid it against the stem, ready to sever the stalk from the bush.
“There you are!”
The knife slipped, slicing her knuckle. Cursing under her, she laid the knife on the bench before she was tempted to use it on the bellowing Zeus. Blood trickled down her hand, dripping from her wrist, onto the ground at her feet. Using a little of the magic she could ill-afford to waste, the flesh knit together.
She turned toward Zeus. “Zeusy?”
He grunted, looking even more irritated. He must have been searching for her, or she’d done something to annoy one of his darling daughters. Either way, he looked rundown, frustrated, and in need of love, which he wasn’t getting willingly from her. Let him find Hera, or one of his numerous human companions for sexual release.
“Sorry,” she said, her contrite expression belied by her teasing tone. “I keep forgetting you don’t like that pet name.”
Zeus rolled his eyes. They both knew she hadn’t forgotten. Since the moment Zeus had rescued Poseidon from Coronus’ luscious prison and her with him, she’d taken every chance she could to tease Zeus. It was one of her few pleasures.
He thought it was because she held some secret yearning to return to Coronus. Maybe he thought it was because she was bitter about Poseidon dropping her for Athena. Both sediments were wrong and far from the truth. She was better off at Mount Olympus then she’d ever been in Coronus’ court. At least here she was somewhat free. Other than the cruel words of others or the rough handling by some of the men, she needn’t worry about anyone hurting her.
Zeus looked down at the basket of flowers she held. “What are you doing?”
“Making perfume. I needed some of Flora’s flowers. She said it was all right.”
He nodded, absently looking around the flower garden. “Oh.”
Small talk was always a bad sign. Zeus was direct and not very diplomatic, unless his request was something he felt uncomfortable with, and then he danced around the issue until she was ready to pull out her hair although she’d much prefer his whiskers. If the collar would allow it she’d black his eyes and give him a piece of her mind for all the distasteful tasks he’d forced her to do over the years.
“Apollo was in a better mood today. Hermes has stopped moping around and forgetting his tasks. Whatever you did worked.”
He knew what she’d done. Or at least he thought he knew. Apollo was a braggart and couldn’t keep a secret to save his blackened soul. The whole palace had to know by now that she’d slept with Apollo and his latest adherent. What they couldn’t know was that Apollo seemed more interested in the man than in Aphrodite.
She waited, hoping he’d leave or come to the point soon. He wanted something from her. Something he thought she wouldn’t like. Something he would ask no one else to do because they weren’t ex-sex slaves to the most notorious owner of women.
Zeus nudged a stone with his toe, refusing to look at her. “Thank you.”
She sighed. Thanking her for her help was very bad. Zeus only thanked her when the undertaking would be extremely dangerous, painful, and impossible for him. Which meant it would be tricky and troublesome, involve debauchery, deceitfulness, and possibly pain for her.
Weeping and screaming obscenities while scratching his eyes out of his self-important face sounded lovely right now. Too bad it would lead to queries she couldn’t answer, unless he asked the right questions, which was highly unlikely. Screaming would send him running for the moment, but he’d be back. Physically hurting him would only bring her pain. Otherwise she would have castrated every male who’d ever touched her, starting with Coronus and ending with Zeus.
She smiled prettily at him, hiding all the rage inside. “Thank you.” She gathered her stuff and prepared to leave. He wasn’t ready to tell her what he wanted and she wasn’t going to wait around until he worked up the nerve to do so. A trip to her villa sound good about now. She’d be back for the meeting tomorrow, hopefully long enough for Zeus to forget what the task he wanted of her. “I bid you good day, Zeus.”
“I need you to check on Ares,” he blurted out. “Can you find out what is wrong with him? He returned from the last battle too high-strung. I don’t need him hurting anyone. Then I want you to find out what is going on with Hades.”
She sighed. There it was. Dear Hades, the Titan’s worst nightmare and most terrifying enemy, unleashed upon the world by the idiot in charge. His fears were unfounded. Hades wasn’t more powerful or ruthless than their father, he was a daemon-god with a purpose, and that made him more frightening. They were fools.
She was bone-tired, emotional wrung-out and soul sick. All she wanted was peace. “Hades? Isn’t he in Tartarus?”
Zeus glared at her. “No!”
She knew perfectly well that he wasn’t, but watching Zeus squirm…well it lifted her spirits a bit. “Who would release Hades?”
He ground his teeth and she took some pleasure from goading him, but she’d push no further. She knew his limit and he was already at the end of his. “I did,” he growled. “He promised to defeat the Titans.”
She arched a brow. “Then I wouldn’t worry about it. He’ll do as he promised.”
“You sound sure of him.”
“I am. Hades is a man of his word. Now is there something else I can do for you?” She smiled seductively and batted her eyelashes at him. She knew he wouldn’t take her up on her offer. Not after the last time. “Some ache I can ease, oh fearless leader?”
Zeus winced and backed away from her. “I’m fine.”
The power of his fear was a heady thing, but only because she had been powerless for so long. She wasn’t the type of daemon who could feed off his fears or most of his passions, unless it happened to be love, lust, or sexual desire.
“Too bad,” she purred with false sweetness. She sashayed up to him, caressing his arm, and watching the desire cloud his eyes. Her tiny spell wove itself into his heart. With Zeus it was always so easy to awaken his desire. “I miss our little trio. They were always so…interesting.”
She twisted the spell tighter around him. He shivered, his eyes glazing over. This was the only revenge allowed her, but only because it was magic Coronus hadn’t known she possessed. She had the ability to take the ’love’ in the hearts of the most powerful god and twist it.
Of course, more often than not, their love wasn’t really love, it was a potent form of lust that made all the gods act like fools when under its spell, especially Zeus. Today she had the perfect woman for him to ‘fall in love with’. A woman who deserved him. Not some hapless and innocent victim, but a woman who had it all and sent her husband to his death out of greed. And he’d gone out of love for her, because he’d believed she’d loved him. Hers was the falsest kind of love.
Aphrodite watched Zeus turn and walk away, sickened by what she’d done, and yet, she didn’t chase Zeus down and reverse the spell. He deserved all the torment she heaped upon his head for the pain he was unwittingly causing her with each command that fell from his lips. It had gotten worse these last few years.
She chafed and bled under the restrictions placed on her by the collar. She raged against the commands worded as requests. She dreamed of what she could not have and it ate at her soul.
Her magic was depleted, revitalized at odd intervals. The darkness of her soul was stronger, more awake than ever, begging her to just let go. She didn’t know how much longer she could continue this way and remain sane.
Originally published 2012
Copyright Stephannie Beman
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