Dashiel watched the silly human from his ethereal perch high above the mortal realm. Ivy Leaguer. Power suit. More starch per square inch than the average Idaho Russet. His current target was sharp as a tack…and about as likely to find love. Constantly making sure no one dismissed her for not having been born with a dick as she powered her way to the top, he’d have felt sorry for her if the extra large stick up her ass didn’t make her a snotty, self-opinionated, elitist jerk a lot of the time.
Still, with any luck, that was all going to change. She was about to get a very big wake-up call.
Dashiel allowed a merciless smirk. This was going to be fun. He’d been waiting weeks for the opportunity to introduce Ms. Prim-and-Proper-High-Priced-Lawyer to love…and humility. And Todd was just the guy for the job.
Right on time, Todd the UPS guy rounded the corner—all happy smiles and easy going attitude—and slammed right into Ms. Prim.
The legal folders she’d been carrying slipped to the floor, as did the package Todd had been taking to her office. Immediately, Todd bent to retrieve both. And so did Ms. Prim.
“Oh hey! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there,” Todd rushed out.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re go—?”
Ms. Prim looked up into Todd’s eyes. And Dashiel shot her right in the ass with one of his special issue, gold tipped Cupid’s Legion arrows.
“Oooo…that was just plain nasty, Dash!”
Dashiel spun around to see Korey—best friend and occasional partner in crime—standing behind him watching the scene play out.
“Love should never be too easy,” Dashiel replied, turning back to make sure his special brand of poison was working. “Where would be the fun in that?”
Korey looked over at the woman currently flustered and fluttering in the most un-lawyer like of ways. “She’s going to fight it all the way, isn’t she?”
Dashiel shrugged without an ounce of remorse. “Probably.”
He sensed Korey’s sharp green eyes drilling into him—as always seeing far too much. “Feeling a little peevish, are we?”
Ignoring him, Dashiel disconnected them from the mortal realm with a sharp click of his fingers now that his work was done. He could always watch the fireworks later.
But, like a terrier with a well loved squeaky toy, Korey wasn’t to be distracted so easily. “You know, if you just got your head out of your ass and got laid—”
“Screw you,” Dashiel grunted, adjusting his quiver and settling his bow across his back once more.
“Not likely…unfortunately,” Korey grumbled back.
Dashiel didn’t rise to the bait. They both knew Korey wasn’t serious. Not really. They were much better friends than they’d ever been lovers. Unfortunately, Dashiel had been going through a dry spell that rivalled the Sahara over the last few decades where lovers were concerned. And Korey knew it.
“I could always set you up with this guy I know—”
Korey cocked his head to the side in that considering way that always made Dashiel squirm. The truth was, he wasn’t interested in a quick hook-up. Not anymore. And that, more than anything, was the problem. He wasn’t about to let Korey know that though. He’d make life a living Tartarus. It was practically in his job description.
Dashiel cleared his throat. “No thank you, O god of the beer goggles. That last guy you tried to set me up with was a gargoyle!”
“Hey! Gargoyles need love too!” Korey pouted.
“Trust me when I say he wasn’t looking for love.”
And Dashiel didn’t have the first idea why that disappointed him. The guy really had been incredibly unattractive—inside and out. He’d been looking for hard and fast, not long and lasting, but it wasn’t like faith and fidelity were high on anyone’s list of priorities around here. Dashiel guessed it came with being immortal—promiscuity and infidelity via boredom was always likely to be on the cards. And lately that reality had been bothering him more and more.
Unfortunately, the whole situation was compounded by the fact he was a Cupid. Potential lovers only ever saw his reputation as a minion of erotic love and the pretty window dressing he’d been blessed with. They wanted him to show them a good time, but it never went deeper than that. In short, they never saw him. Granted, it had been a lot of fun for the first two thousand years or so, but the song was getting old now. He needed something…more.
“Anyway,” Korey continued, “That little incident at B’s wasn’t my fault. I never sent that gargoyle your way.”
“Sure. You do realise he’s still hounding me though, right?”
Even as he asked, he knew it was pointless trying to make Korey feel guilty. He’d always denied sending Crash or Crush or whatever his name was to him anyway. It was just that Dashiel knew better than to believe him. Then again, he should have known better than to go looking for more than a quick fuck at one of the parties held at Bacchus’ Den too.
“You’re too picky, that’s your problem,” Korey huffed.
“I am not!”
“Yes you are.”
Dashiel bristled. “Maybe I’m just looking for something a little more meaningful than wham-bam-thank-you-man and a slap on the ass.”
Shit! Shit! Shit!
Why had he said that? So much for not telling Korey about his little mid-immortality crisis.
Korey scrunched up his nose as if he’d just suggested swimming at a sewage treatment plant. “Have you been licking your own arrow tips or something? Seriously, workplace health and safety is going to nail your ass if they catch wind of that.”
Dashiel ran his hand through his hair.
“Oh, shit! You’re serious?”
“Yes! No! I mean…I don’t know.”
Korey wrapped an arm around Dashiel’s shoulders. “Oh, honey! Trust me, love you forever isn’t meant for us. It’s way too long a time commitment for most of the poor saps in the mortal realm, never mind us. You’ll get over it. You’ve just got to get out there again and grab what you can out of eternity.”
And wasn’t that just the most depressing thought in the cosmos. “You do realise you’re supposed to believe in love and happily ever after and all that crap as a Venus, right?”
“Yeah! Yeah! Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with happy for right now though.”
As he spoke, Korey was giving him that look—the one that was both concerned and calculating. Shit! He was in for it now. He was going to be inundated with gargoyles and satyrs and gods only knew what else, he could just see it.
Korey gave his shoulders a reassuring—at least he assumed it was supposed to feel reassuring—little squeeze. “Come on, The Pantheon is inducting new Mercuries today and there’s going to be a huge party afterwards.”
“Great, more little messenger boys cluttering up the place.”
“Hey now! If we didn’t have them, who’d carry all the love notes you inspire, gorgeous?”
“Nah! I think they only do lice these days. They’ve got a better union.” Dashiel snorted in amusement despite himself. Korey gave his shoulders another squeeze. “Come on, you’ll enjoy it. I promise.”
Dashiel eyed Korey. He hadn’t actually said anything about setting him up with anybody at the party. Maybe if they went, Korey would get distracted with whatever nymph or deity or miscellaneous immortal creature took his fancy for the night and forget all about Dashiel’s morose little slip.
“Okay. Lead the way,” Dashiel sighed in resignation.
“Oh no! After you. I insist.”
“You just want to stare at my ass again, don’t you?”
“Duh!” Dashiel shook his head and chuckled as Korey gave him a little push to get him moving. Korey was fun and always made him smile. This kind of playfulness helped to remind him why he liked the god so much. “Nice boots by the way. They definitely say fuck me. I’m betting you get lucky tonight, big boy.”
And then he’d go and say to remind Dashiel way it was a love/hate thing with them.
Dashiel looked down at the shiny black leather that encased his lower legs from toes to knees—a series of three silver buckles and straps holding them firmly around each calf. His latest acquisition and current pride and joy, they were seriously kick-ass boots. Still, something had to be said.
Dashiel took a deep breath. Then, as ready as he was ever likely to be, stepped into the semi-circular auditorium of The Pantheon.
As always, the amphitheatre was noisy and crowded. Gods and goddesses mingled and chattered like a flock of brightly coloured parrots—seeing and being seen. Or perhaps scene was more the word he was looking for—many had about as much substance as the backdrop to a low budget high school musical.
Picking his way down the glowing white marble steps, Dashiel searched for a relatively quiet spot. Somewhere they would still be close enough to see what was going on without being jostled or overwhelmed by the prattle. Fixing on a row about halfway down, he led the way—steering them through the throng with some difficulty as various deities tried to waylay them.
Generally speaking, there was nothing like the prospect of a party to get the inhabitants of Godshome out en masse and in high spirits. Today was no different, but Dashiel wasn’t sure he was in the mood right now. With a little effort he could probably work his way up to a good funk.
“Ooo…looks like Fredricka and Sebastian are going to be putting on a show,” Korey said beside him as they settled into their seats.
Dashiel followed Korey’s gaze to a pair of amorous Venuses locked in a passionate embrace in full view of The Pantheon.
“I thought Fredricka was with Sasha.”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” Korey replied with an evil grin. “Sasha’s going to hit the roof when he finds out about this.”
Dashiel sighed and looked away. It was all so predictable and monotonous. Different players engaged in the same games. Parties and pranks. He could dimly remember it being exciting and fresh, but now it was just lacklustre and uninspiring. Not to mention rather lonely as he found himself less and less inclined to join in the ‘fun’ with the other gods and goddesses.
Just as he was working his way up to broody, however, his gaze settled on the group assembled below about to be inducted into godhood. Dashiel had to work hard to prevent his jaw dropping open and landing in his lap. Standing in the middle of the open stage area at the base of the amphitheatre was the most magnificent specimen of male godhood he’d ever laid eyes on.
Rather short—even for the often diminutive Mercury—the man nevertheless stood out far and above the rest of his peers. A lean runner’s body. Spiked black hair that honest to gods glittered—covered as it was in a liberal amount of silver sparkles that highlighted bright royal blue tips and shone in the sunlight. Midnight blue eyes kohl blackened within an inch of their lives. Lips that were so perfectly pouty he wanted to explore and taste them to see if they were as soft and sweet as they looked.
“Who is that?”
“Who?” Korey asked absently—still busy checking out the scene.
“That.” Dashiel nodded towards the man who held him transfixed.
He couldn’t believe the sexy as sin godling didn’t have everyone in the whole damn place staring at him. Not that he was necessarily disappointed none of the vultures seemed to have spotted him yet.
The god threw back his head and laughed aloud at something one of his companions said and Dashiel felt a tight heat flare to life deep in his gut. It raced to his cock, which in turn began to stir and ache. The unknown godling was—
“You mean Achan?” Korey asked, finally scanning the new recruits below.
“Yeah. You know, Gareth’s little brother.”
“No way!” Dashiel’s jaw literally did drop open this time before he managed to catch himself and school his features into something a little less smacked-in-the-back-of-the-head-with-a-blunt-object.
“Yeah! Kind of cute now he’s all grown up, huh? I can’t believe you haven’t noticed before.”
“I’ve been…busy,” Dashiel said, too preoccupied with drinking the other god—Achan—in to pay much attention to Korey’s needling.
Korey snorted. “You’ve been in a coma.”
Dashiel could only nod dumbly.
Of course he remembered Achan. And the little godling had always been cute, but in a kid brother kind of way. Growing up, Achan had been the sweet, rather shy sidekick—forever tagging along as Dashiel and Gareth got up to mischief. But those days were long, long gone. And this Achan was anything but kid brother cute. He was—
Trumpets sounded all around the amphitheatre, announcing the beginning of the ceremony. Ruling gods and goddesses of all the houses, with Mercury’s leader heading the procession filed into the space. But the pomp and ceremony passed in a blur for Dashiel as he remained spellbound, watching Achan’s every move.
Finally, the moment arrived for the blessing and each of the newly-made Mercury Heralds received their gifts—tiny wings sprouting from their heels and the buzz of divine energy granting them their legendary speed. Then their leader—a rather pompous little man with thin lips and sharp features—stepped forward to retrieve the Chalice of Eternal Ambrosia and finalise the deification process. But, as he opened the doors to its sanctuary above the altar, it became obvious that something was horribly wrong.
The Chalice had vanished.
Gasps of disbelief and fear filled the space, bouncing off the marble and rippling out to fill every corner of The Pantheon. Without the life and power of Ambrosia they would all slowly fade from existence—starved of their immortal essence.
But before panic could truly take hold, Achan appeared in a blinding flash of light—newly granted wings on his heels fluttering wildly as he hovered above the crowd of new Mercury Heralds holding the Chalice aloft. Laughing as the gasps of horror turned to amazement and awe, Achan flew over his brethren, sprinkling them liberally with Ambrosia. The liquid rained down over them in a golden storm—anointing them all in a shower of eternal life and divine power.
Finally, regal as any of the gods and goddesses that had ever assembled in the Divine Amphitheatre, Achan returned the Chalice to its rightful place in the Sanctuary and bowed before the leaders as if he’d just preformed a great service at their behest.
As the crowd continued to exclaim and chatter, Dashiel stared at the now glowing Achan. He was covered from head to toe in the golden radiance of Ambrosia. But it was more the expression of triumph on his beautiful face that truly made Achan shine. He was captivating—a golden being of light and joy.
Then Achan turned his head and looked straight at Dashiel. The smile on the younger god’s face made Dashiel’s heart flip flop wildly in his chest. Their eyes seemed to meet and hold for an eternity across the distance—drawing Dashiel in with every drumming beat of his heart. But the moment was shattered when the newly anointed Mercuries swarmed in to hoist Achan high above their heads.
Dashiel continued to follow Achan as he was carried out of the arena like a conquering hero—he simply couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Where is the graduation party being held?” Dashiel finally managed, watching his new, laughing obsession being taken away.
“Bacchus’, of course,” Korey replied.
Not even that could deter him. Dashiel had to follow. He needed to meet this new Achan. Needed to know the god that had him completely enthralled.
Dashiel scanned the room, unsurprised to find the party in full swing by the time they reached Bacchus’ Den. While the formal deification ceremony had finished less than twenty minutes ago, many had obviously started celebrating long before the formal proceedings had started.
All around the room, gods and goddesses, monsters and creatures of legend engaged in excess. Sex, drugs, alcohol—all were freely available at every turn. And it appeared to have been going on for quite some time judging by the state of many of the revellers.
Dashiel let his gaze roam around the room—not focusing on anyone or anything in particular, but looking for one being specifically. One head of sparkling blue/black spikes. One set of dark, mischievous eyes. It wasn’t easy.
It was always the same at Bacchus’ Den. The music was a vital, living thing—its pulse the constant throbbing beat of the drum base, its breath the ebb and flow of the melody. The dim lighting and ever present, theatrical wisps of smoke created the kind of atmosphere that encouraged a sensual slide into debauchery. And the heavy scent of lust and pleasure teased and tempted. Dashiel had to fight hard to maintain focus.
Korey, on the other hand, apparently set no such restrictions on himself. “Oh my! Sorry to love you and leave you, honey, but I see a little something I just have to try.”
Dashiel didn’t look to see what Korey had spotted as he hurried away. Knowing his friend, he’d probably have to swab his eyes out with bleach afterwards if he did. He was pretty sure Korey had tried everything—and he did mean everything—at least once. Usually a lot more than once.
He let him go and concentrated on why he was here. Starting his hunt at the entrance, he systematically moved through the room towards the bar. But it soon became apparent that Achan wasn’t with the other Mercuries rapidly trying to catch up to their drunken friends and cohorts. Frowning, Dashiel wandered about the sea of tables and party-goers randomly, hoping he might have missed the god in passing somewhere along the line. But as hard as he searched, he couldn’t spot his elusive quarry.
Having seen Achan in the amphitheatre—the way he shone with life and energy—Dashiel didn’t think it possible the other god could have resisted the celebration. But perhaps he was wrong. It had been so long since he’d known the younger god, he didn’t really know him at all. And yet he wanted to. Something about Achan called to him. If he was honest with himself, he’d have to admit he’d always enjoyed Achan’s company. It just held a very different appeal now. One that wasn’t so innocent.
Fortunately, just when Dashiel was starting to lose all hope of finding and exploring his new fascination with his childhood friend, his eyes zeroed in on his target.
Really, now that he thought about it, he should have known to start at the dance floor. Achan had never been one to stay still for long. He’d always loved to move. And now, beneath the random spray of coloured lights that repeatedly bombarded and illuminated the writhing bodies, Achan seemed lost in the pleasure of dance.
The sensual grace and fluid slide of his body made Dashiel’s cock hard, but the enthusiasm and abandon displayed in every movement called to something deeper. He wanted to taste the passion from Achan’s skin. He longed to nudge against the simple joyfulness he saw in the other god until it wrapped around his own flagging lust for life and revived it to once again come out and play.
As if aware of Dashiel’s gaze, Achan turned to stare at him as he continued to dance. A wicked smile curled the corners of his lips in the most carnal of invitation, but the light Dashiel saw in the other god’s eyes was surprisingly unguarded and artless—a simple delight and guileless greeting. It was an appealing mix of seductive tease and pure, eager welcome that beckoned Dashiel like nothing else had in centuries.
Stunned, Dashiel realised Achan was beautiful in the most unique and unexpected of ways. So used to the classic good looks and sophisticated wiles of The Pantheon he was all but immune to them, Achan‘s beauty was in the inner light of joy and enthusiasm. It was in the love of existence Dashiel detected in every smile and energetic sensual move of his body.
With Achan’s eyes fixed on him, Dashiel found it impossible to look away. He could only continue to stare. Somehow, despite the crowd, the heated look they shared made it feel almost private—just the two of them and a seductive dance.
When the music finally changed, Achan quit the dance floor and sauntered towards Dashiel.
“Hello, Dashiel,” Achan said as he stopped in front of him.
“Achan.” Dashiel was thrilled to see Achan’s grin get wider as he greeted him by name. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Definitely. It’s been a long time.”
“It certainly has.” Dashiel let his eyes linger over Achan and was surprised when the other god didn’t move or blush. So much had changed about the shy, retiring little godling he’d once known. “I didn’t realize how far along in your training you were.”
“Mmm…time flies when you’re having fun, I guess.”
Dashiel frowned. Was that a hint of censure in Achan’s voice? But the thought fled as Achan reached out to tuck his arm through Dashiel’s. The feeling of the warm, sexy body pressed up against his own sent all sorts of sensations—most of them red hot and needy—coursing through him. And yet, at the same time he felt an unfamiliar uncertainty. It was difficult to reconcile the godling he had known with the fully fledged god beside him.
“You look like a man who wants to buy me a drink,” Achan said, leading him towards the bar.
Dashiel blinked—far more used to being the leader rather than the led in this sort of situation. “Wow. That’s a pretty cocky line.”
Achan shrugged, but there might have been the slightest hint of colour covering his high cheekbones. “What can I say, I like cocky. It seems to really work for me these days.”
Dashiel gazed down at the godling he’d known as a quiet, starry eyed youngster in surprise and received a cheeky grin in response.
Nudging their way through the crowd, they finally made it to the bar. Dashiel managed to get their drinks and escape the mayhem without too much hassle. Although, having Achan pressed close against his side was distracting. Not necessarily unwelcome, just…diverting. They’d ended up with a Long Hot Screw and a Slow Blow Job at Achan’s rather provocative insistence.
Finally seated at one of the tall tables scattered around the room, Dashiel took a sip of his drink—eyeing Achan as he tried to work the other god out. “That was a nice stunt, by the way. At the ceremony, I mean.”
“Thank you.” Achan’s mischievous smile inspired a stab of desire deep in Dashiel’s gut…and had some pretty interesting reactions lower down as well.
“I’m rather surprised to see you here, actually. I thought they’d have you chained to the rock for sure by now.”
At the comment, Achan’s smile became a little strained, his complexion a little paler. But he still managed to shrug nonchalantly enough. “Hey, I’m a Mercury. Theft and mischief are part of my portfolio now. I thought I’d start things off with a bang.”
“Well, you certainly got everyone’s attention, that’s for sure.”
“Mmm…well, getting a little attention is nice, don’t you think?”
Achan’s eyes fixed on him, the teasing light well and truly back in full force now.
Dashiel cleared his throat and took another sip of his drink. “So, what have you been up to anyway?”
“Oh lots of things. But I never kiss and tell.” Achan raised his glass, drawing attention to his full, soft lips currently curled up in a little smile.
When had Achan become such a tease? And why did Dashiel find it so appealing?
“What about you?” Achan asked, placing his glass back on the table and running the tip of one long finger around the edge. “Still inspiring love and breaking hearts?”
Dashiel wasn’t sure he’d quite put it like that, but both were covered under his mandate. “It’s all part of the job.”
“Such dedication to duty.”
Before Dashiel could say anything in reply, the music shifted to something slower, a break from the vigorous rhythms that had been pounding out since Dashiel entered The Den.
“Oh! I love this one,” Achan moaned as he began to sway with the beat. “Dance with me?”
Dancing was the last thing on Dashiel’s mind after the little moan that had slipped from Achan’s lips and the sensual sway. But he stood, ready to accept the offer in a heartbeat. Although, it was somewhat hard on his cock—which had stiffened and caught at an uncomfortable angle in his tight leather pants.
With a little laugh—as if he knew exactly what he was doing to Dashiel—Achan took his hand and hurried them onto the dance floor. And soon, he had an armful of warm, sensual god to distract him as they began to move together.
Achan seemed intent on driving him insane as he continued to rub and slide their bodies together. Then, as if not content with just that level of torment, Achan lay his head down against Dashiel’s chest in an intimate gesture that stole Dashiel’s heart completely. Looking down at the spikes of dark hair, seeing the dark crescents of Achan’s lashes flutter closed and sensing what felt suspiciously like a contented sigh against him—it was too much to take. The ache too intense.
“Come home with me.”
“Mmm…” he felt more than heard Achan murmur as he snuggled a little closer. “Wish I could, but I have an early start tomorrow.”
With a little squeeze as if to soften the rejection, Achan stepped away as the song came to an end.
“Where do you live? When can I see you again?”
With a little chuckle, Achan backed away another step, until he was just out of reach. “Oh I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again soon.”
And with that, Achan was gone—disappearing with all the preternatural speed of his new godhood and a laugh that shot straight through Dashiel like quicksilver.
Dashiel tried to concentrate on the job at hand, but it just wasn’t happening. He’d spent hours waiting for the next two mortals on his hit list to be in the right position. But the two stubborn men just weren’t cooperating. It was almost as if they knew they were being targeted and were actively trying to thwart him.
And all the while, Dashiel felt tight and distracted, wondering when he’d get the chance to see Achan again.
Finally, thank The Pantheon for small mercies, one of the soon-to-be-lovers missed his bus and hurried into the same coffee shop as his unsuspecting would-be-suitor to keep warm and dry until the next scheduled service.
Dashiel saw his chance. Drawing his bow with a fluid grace born of centuries of practice, he inhaled, took aim and—
The arrow slipped from his grasp and shot forward with a sickening high pitched whistle, hitting the target right in the heart. Dashiel suppressed a wince—the poor sucker was going to fall so hard. But at least he’d struck the right mark. Things could have gone all sorts of interesting if he’d got the wrong guy. Or—Godshome forbid—hit the girl standing beside him.
Dashiel spun around. “Achan! What are you doing here?”
“Oh you remember me. How sweet.” Achan smirked, and oddly, Dashiel found himself about to make excuses for not having kept in contact over the years—something he’d never found himself doing before. But Achan waved it away nonchalantly. “I’m only teasing. Don’t look so panicky.”
“I wasn’t panicking.”
“If you say so.” Achan took a long, slow lick of the sweet-ice in his hand—a slender cylindrical treat that was proving increasingly popular with the younger crowd.
Dashiel followed Achan’s tongue, now stained a vivid pink with food colouring—thoroughly mesmerised.
“It’s hot out today, huh?” Achan asked, cheeky grin firmly in place. “You want some?”
Dashiel felt himself blush to the roots of his hair at having been caught staring. He shook his head, not quite trusting his voice—sure he’d embarrass himself even more with a husky rasp. Or worst still a moan.
“So what ya doing?” Achan asked, still licking at his sweet-ice.
Achan sighed. “So it’s true.”
“A love god’s work is never done.” Achan was laughing at him—he could see it in the sparkle of mischief in those dark blue eyes.
“Why are you here?”
“Oh I’m hurt!” Achan mocked with a pout—crunching down on the tip of the sweet-ice and making Dashiel cringe involuntarily. “I thought you wanted to see me again.”
“As it happens, I was sent to deliver a message. You’re my first customer…so to speak.”
Waving the last of his sweet-ice out of existence with a casual flick of his wrist, Achan produced a thin scroll from his belt and handed it across. Dashiel didn’t fail to notice the way Achan made sure their fingers brushed against one another in passing. In fact, it was impossible to ignore as the contact sent shivers of delight racing up his arm and across his entire body.
Trying to distract himself from the sensation, Dashiel broke the seal and rapidly scanned the note.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. How the Tartarus am I supposed to get those two in the same room together, never mind lined up to fall in love?”
“Bad assignment?” Achan asked, sounding genuinely sympathetic.
“You could say that. Last I saw these two hated each other. To the point of sending trained assassins.”
Achan winced, but then did something completely shocking. He raised himself up on his tip-toes and brushed a quick kiss to Dashiel’s cheek. “You’ll do it. I know you will.”
Dashiel sucked in a shocked breath, only to find Achan smelt divine—a combination of sweet from the sweet-ice and spicy from something that was simply Achan. As he pulled away, their eyes met and held—making it feel like they were the only two immortals in Godshome. But just as Dashiel went to move in and bring their lips together for a proper kiss, Achan stepped back—blushing furiously.
“Well that was—” Achan cleared his throat. “Interesting.”
“I should go,” Achan continued—sounding overly bright and cheerful as he took several more steps back. “First day and all that. Got to make a good impression.”
“Wait! Achan! Will I see you at the Spring Festival tomorrow?” Dashiel rushed to ask, desperate not to let the other god escape again.
Like flicking a switch, Achan changed in an instant. As if playing from a script, the cocky, self-assured god was back in the blink of an eye. “Well, that all depends.”
“If I get a better offer.”
Dashiel gaped at him. But before he could think—or sputter in indignation—the sound of tinkling bells interrupted, calling Achan away to deliver more messages.
“Oops! Saved by the bell. Must go.”
“Achan!” Achan turned—flying backwards so he could look at Dashiel but still technically be answering the summons. Smart godling. “Tell me I can pick you up tomorrow evening to go to the Spring Festival.”
Achan sighed theatrically. “Oh all right. I wouldn’t want you pining away.”
And with that, Achan spun around and dashed off, laughing all the way. Strangely enough, Dashiel felt like laughing too. It was only then he realised he didn’t know where Achan lived. Damn! The little imp wasn’t going to make it easy on him it seemed. He’d have to hunt down the information himself. Somehow, the thrill of the chase made the pursuit all the sweeter.
Hearing the steady beat of rain against the roof, Dashiel sighed and sank further into his chair by the fire. It looked like Jupiter’s Minions were out living it up with one last winter storm before tomorrow’s big Spring Festival. After the day he’d had trying to get the leaders of two rival crime syndicates to fall in love it seemed like the perfect excuse to bar the door, ignore the whole Pantheon and unwind with a good book and a glass of red.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy to concentrate on the words or the Merlot. Achan’s image invaded his thoughts time and again. Something about the god haunted him, especially since their little impromptu meeting earlier in the day. Dashiel couldn’t shake the feeling there was something else going on. Something more than just an accidental re-acquaintance with an old friend that had turned out to be a real hottie. One he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about.
A fist pounding on the door snapped Dashiel out of his ruminations. The rain was still coming down in buckets outside. Which didn’t mean much admittedly—The Pantheon was full of gods and goddesses crazy enough to run around partying in weather like this. But he couldn’t think why they’d be bothering him. He’d let it be known centuries ago that rain depressed the crap out of him. He was more a spring and summer sunshine kind of god.
The hammering came again, this time louder—more insistent.
“I’m coming,” Dashiel grumbled, pushing himself up out of his comfy chair and heading for the front door—all the while thinking of interesting ways to torture and maim immortals that came to the door in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm.
He flung open the door in disgust, ready to give whoever was on the other side a piece of his mind, and was stunned to find a very wet, very bedraggled looking Achan dripping on the stoop.
About a thousand miles away from the teasing, mischievous god he’d been only a few hours ago, Achan was a mess. His spikes were all gone now—his hair plastered to his head by the rain in mangled disarray. His normal full lips were thin and bloodless—trembling slightly as he panted for breath. And his eye make-up ran down his cheeks in long black streaks, making him look like a very sad raccoon. Or on second thoughts, more like a very frightened raccoon.
“Achan! Are you all right?”
“Dash, I…I think I’m in trouble,” Achan whispered—so softly it was lucky Dashiel was a god or he’d never have been able to hear him.
Suddenly, above the drumming of the rain, Dashiel heard the sound of troops moving down the street—pounding on doors, shouting out orders to open up.
Achan jumped—his eyes wide and terrified. “Please, Dashiel. I don’t know where else to go. I need your help.”
The petrified look on Achan’s face and the sound of the Quirinus—the city’s official guards—getting closer spurred Dashiel into action.
“Quick, get inside.” Grabbing hold of Achan’s very wet arm, he dragged the dishevelled god inside and quickly locked the door.
Through the solid oak panel, they could still hear the Quirinus Guards moving down the street—systematically knocking on doors, yelling orders and getting closer with every second.
“Oh gods! They’re coming.” Achan was shaking now. “I didn’t do it, Dash. I swear I didn’t—”
Dashiel stared at Achan. There was no way he could just hand him over. Not like this. Not before he’d got some bloody good answers to the questions rushing through his head.
“Calm down. You head into the bathroom and clean-up. I’ll handle this.”
A heavy fist pounded on the door. “Quirinus. Open up.”
Achan might have let out a terrified squeak, but Dashiel simply pushed him towards the bathroom door. “Go.”
The fist pounded again.
“I’m coming,” Dashiel shouted back, waiting until Achan disappeared from view and he heard the distinctive snick of the lock before moving to answer the front door.
The rain had eased to a steady drizzle, but the look on the guard’s face on the other side of the door was every bit as thunderous as the storm had been. Dashiel pretended not to notice.
“Good evening, officer. What can I do for you?”
“We’re looking for Achan Mercury-Herald. Have you seen him?”
Dashiel shrugged. “Once or twice.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed—he looked completely unimpressed. But Dashiel merely leant casually against the door frame.
“Sorry, I can’t help you. But if there’s nothing else, I have company I really must be getting back—”
“Who else is here?” The guard demanded moving to step forward.
“I don’t think so.” Dashiel stood up straight and blocked the way with his body. “Your pardon, but I’m entertaining the sort of company that…let’s just say doesn’t appreciate being disturbed. If you know what I mean. I’m sure Maximus Quirinus can vouch for me…tomorrow.”
“Maximus Quirinus is in there?”
“No,” Dashiel replied, but with his eyes he said something very different.
Fortunately, the guard wasn’t stupid. Or at least not stupid enough to tempt that Dashiel might actually have Maximus Quirinus—temper and all—in his bed. He certainly wouldn’t want to be the one on duty when they had to tell the boss about whatever was going on. It was well known that Quirinus Guards did everything in their power to sort problems out themselves before bothering their leader.
“Why are you looking for Achan anyway?”
“None of your business,” the guard snapped, glancing down the street as they heard the distinctive jingle of armour heading their way.
Dashiel affected a casual shrug. He’d find out soon enough from Achan anyway. “Fair enough.”
A second guard hurried up the front steps to join them. “Sir, there’s a Venus who says he saw Achan with the Chalice heading towards the Alpheus river.”
Dashiel stiffened. “The Chalice of Eternal Ambrosia?”
“No!” The first guard barked, then cursed under his breath. “You didn’t hear that. There’s no need to…alarm anybody at this stage. We have the situation well in hand.” The guard took a deep breath. “But if you do happen to see Achan Mercury-Herald, you’re to report it at once.”
With that, the guards turned and hurried away towards The Venus Quarter.
After shutting and locking the door, Dashiel turned and leant heavily against the smooth wooden panel. What a mess. He wasn’t even sure where to begin unravelling the tangle that had unceremoniously landed in his lap.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Achan peering at him from around the bathroom door—looking a little less damp, but still pale and wide-eyed.
“I didn’t do this,” he said—soft and low.
Dashiel just stared at him.
“I didn’t, Dashiel. You have to believe me. I didn’t do this.”
“Well it’s not like you don’t have a history.”
“I never stole the Chalice. I just…borrowed it. I put it right back.”
“Borrowed!” Dashiel bellowed, then shook his head in exasperation. “What a fucking mess! What were you thinking?”
Achan seemed to bristle as he stepped out from behind the bathroom door. “I only did it to…”
“To what, Achan? To get everyone’s attention? To show them how clever you were? What a good Mercury you’d become? Well, congratulations, Achan. They all know.”
“I didn’t do it to show them!”
Achan’s face was a twisted mask of anger and torment now, but Dashiel was too upset himself to back down. This was serious. Serious enough to see Achan banished to—
Dashiel couldn’t even stand to think of the endless torture and punishment gods and immortal creatures might expect to be sentenced to for crimes of this nature.
“Then why, Achan? Why’d you do it? ‘Cause I sure as Tartarus hope it was worth it after the mess you’re in now.”
Achan just looked away—his cheeks dark red, his jaw set.
“I wanted to show you! I wanted you to notice!”
“The only reason I did it, the only reason I did any of it was to get your attention.”
“You stole the Chalice of Eternal Ambrosia so I’d notice you?”
“I didn’t steal it. I just borrowed it. I distributed the Ambrosia for the ceremony and that’s it. I put the Chalice right back. Everyone saw that.”
Dashiel had absolutely no idea what to say. His head was spinning—a thousand thoughts and confusing emotions bombarding him. He didn’t even know where to begin.
“Okay.” Dashiel took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair again. First things first. “Okay. Let’s just calm down and try to figure a way out of this mess.”
“We have to find out who really took the Chalice. That’s our first challenge,” Dashiel said as he watched Achan begin to pace back and forth across the living room. “Then we have to get it back and work out how to clear your name.”
And after that they really needed to have a little chat.
“How are we supposed to do that?” Achan sounded tight and agitated. “The entire Quinirus Guard is out there looking for it. And they’ve already decided I took it.”
“Yes, but who better to catch a thief than a thief?”
Achan stopped his frantic pacing and cocked his head in incomprehension.
“Think about it. What would you have done?”
“I don’t know!” Achan snapped, then let out a frustrated breath. “I really don’t. No one’s ever been able to take the Chalice. It’s too well protected.”
“But you did.”
“No I didn’t. I never actually stole the Chalice, I just—” Achan froze mid-sentence—kohl darkened eyes widening.
“I didn’t take the Chalice.”
Without another word Achan bolted for the door.
“Achan! Wait! Where are you going?”
“Come on! We have to hurry. I just hope we’re not too late.”
The amphitheatre was dark and quiet. Dashiel couldn’t get over how different the place looked. He’d never seen it so cold and still. Then again, he’d never bothered coming here outside a ceremony or festival. Still, he had expected at least a few guards and officials to be hanging around, even afterhours. But apparently they were all out combing Godshome for Achan and the missing Chalice.
Crouched down in the wings of the stage area, watching the sanctuary intently without any real understanding why, Dashiel leant in to whisper in Achan’s ear. “What are we doing here?”
“I never took the Chalice.”
But Achan was already shaking his head. “I used the Obscure Object spell so it would blend in with the Sanctuary and looked like it had been taken when they opened the doors. While everyone was fussing and fretting, I ran in at the speed of light, snatched up the Chalice and shot back to start doing my little rain dance before anyone even realised what was going on.”
Dashiel blinked, completely stunned. “You used a first year, elementary school spell to fool the entire Pantheon?”
Achan shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “Um…yeah.”
Dashiel was too astounded to say anything for a while. It was a bold and impressive scheme. But so risky at the same time. At the end of the day, there was really only one thing he absolutely had to know, however.
“Why what?” Achan asked, sounding distracted as he once again stared at the dais in front of them.
“Why did you do all this? Why me?”
“Oh. That why,” Achan murmured, suddenly looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Achan looked down at the ground now, as if struggling to find the right words in the cracks and fissures of the polished marble. “I just…I’ve always…ever since we were godlings, I…” At last Achan lifted his gaze and Dashiel was struck by the stark honesty and need he saw on the other god’s face. “More than anyone I’ve ever met in all of The Pantheon, I want you. I want a chance to see if we fit together.”
For a long time all he could do was stare. In the face of Achan’s candour and sincerity, Dashiel found himself completely speechless—something that honestly didn’t happen all that often. But as the silence stretched out, he saw something painful and suspiciously shiny start to cloud Achan’s beautiful blue eyes. An ache immediately formed in his own heart—like Achan’s pain was his own.
He reached out and took Achan’s hand, amazed at how perfect it felt resting in his own. “I think…I think I’d like that too.”
Powerless to resist, Dashiel leant forward and pressed his lips to Achan’s. And it was everything he had never found in another’s touch. Sweet and hot, the sensation of Achan’s mouth beneath his own sent a rush of need washing over him.
Wanting more, Dashiel opened his mouth and ran his tongue over Achan’s full lips. Instantly, Achan opened for him and it was unparalleled as together they explored each other—licking over smooth teeth, tangling tongues and swallowing the tiny moans of pleasure neither of them could contain.
When they finally separated, panting for breath, they just stared at each other. The emotions and expressions he saw flashing across Achan’s face mirrored his own—excitement, trepidation, desire. It was all there and something else—a connection Dashiel had never felt before.
Then Achan started to grin. “Of course, there’s also the fact I desperately want to fuck you while you’re wearing those kick ass boots.”
Dashiel stifled a snort of laughter; it was good to know the imp that Achan seemed to have grown into hadn’t all been a fabrication. “Really?”
“Oh yeah! You look totally hot in them.”
“You know, I might just let you…one day.”
Achan’s eyes sparkled as he raised an eyebrow. “One day, huh?”
“You’re not the only one that knows how to tease. Or with a vested interest in making sure a guy keeps coming back for more.”
“I really don’t think you have to worry on that score,” Achan whispered.
Achan’s answer was to seal their lips together again in a quick, hungry kiss. Unfortunately, before it could become anything deeper, Achan stiffened.
Dashiel pulled away. “What’s—?”
“Ssh! Someone’s coming.”
Sure enough, seconds later, Dashiel was able to make out a figure creeping forward through the shadows.
Concealed under a heavy cowl it was impossible to see the identity of the trespasser, but the stranger headed straight for the Sanctuary that housed the Chalice—which was more than enough for Dashiel.
Waiting and judging with all the skill of a born hunter, Dashiel timed his ambush just right. In one swift move, he stood and drew his bow—the arrow he notched far deadlier than its gold tipped cousins. “That’s far enough.”
The intruder was left exposed and vulnerable—inches from the Sanctuary, but with nowhere to hide or run. And as he spun to face them, Dashiel instantly recognised the rather plain, stubbly square jawed face and steely grey eyes of the gargoyle who had propositioned him weeks before at Bacchus’ Den. The same one that had been following him around off and on ever since.
But before he could finish the sentence, Achan stepped forward from the shadows and the gargoyle let out a low, mean hiss as he crouched into an attack stance.
Dashiel instantly resighted his bow. “Don’t even think about it.”
“I don’t understand,” Achan said, sounding confused.
“Of course you don’t, you stupid little fuck,” the gargoyle growled—still crouched, but unmoving. Which was the only reason he wasn’t sporting an arrow through his heart right now.
“Do I know you?” Achan asked tentatively.
“Dense fucking Mercury. Of course you don’t know me. But I know you.”
“You were trying to set him up, weren’t you?” Dashiel said—the venom in the gargoyle’s eyes made it quite clear he hated Achan.
“He needed to disappear.”
“So you were going to what? Have the Chalice mysteriously turn up in his possessions? Let the Elders banish him for stealing it?”
“It seemed the only permanent way to deal with him.”
“But why?” Achan asked, sounding both hurt and confused. “I don’t even know you.”
The guy literally snarled at Achan. “I saw him first. He’s mine.”
But Dashiel already knew exactly who the guy was talking about. He’d thought he was just dealing with a stalker—it wasn’t like he’d never had to deal with one before—but apparently this particular stalker was also a psycho.
“Dashiel!” the gargoyle hissed, his human-like features starting to twist grotesquely.
“We’ve never said more than a dozen words to each other,” Dashiel denied hotly. “And most of those consisted of me saying no, Crush.”
“It’s Kresh!” the gargoyle screeched.
Thinking about it in that brief pocket of time that stretched out forever right before everything went to Tartarus, it probably hadn’t been the smartest idea to mouth off. Pushed into a rage, the fury seemed to boil under the gargoyle’s skin as his features warped and morphed with his shift. His face elongated to form a sharp, canine snout with long, dripping fangs in an instant. His ears grew pointed and horns erupted from his skull. And his eyes began to glow a deep, hate-filled red as the enraged beast snapped and snarled.
Dashiel released his arrow, but not before the shift had given the gargoyle an impenetrable, rocky grey hide. And there was no time to notch another. All Dashiel could do was sidestep out of the way of the charge.
As the beast tried to correct itself, Dashiel brought his bow around for a heavy blow across the gargoyle’s broad back. He just needed to keep the beast mindless and focused on him—he couldn’t stand the thought of what the gargoyle might do to Achan.
Unfortunately, although almost indestructible, the bow still shattered on impact—which was going to be interesting to explain to the armourer. Dashiel was forced to jump back from a set of snapping jaws that swung around at him. He only narrowly avoided ending up between them and in a great deal of pain.
Dashiel knew exactly what Kresh was thinking—if he could disable them, he could escape. But that couldn’t be allowed to happen. This might be the only chance they had to clear Achan’s name. They needed the gargoyle alive and right here as exhibit A.
Unfortunately, distracted for a split second by that realisation, Dashiel wasn’t quite fast enough to dodge the next lightening quick attack. He howled in agony as the bones in his left wrist were crushed beneath the pressure of the gargoyle’s vice-like jaws.
“Dashiel!” Achan screamed.
In horror, Dashiel watched Achan run and leap on the gargoyle’s hunched back. His heart jumped up into his throat as he saw Kresh effortlessly dislodge Achan and send him flying across the amphitheatre. He landed with a sickening crunch against a marble pillar and didn’t move.
Kresh howled in triumph and ran at Achan’s motionless form. The universe seemed to slow, but there was nothing Dashiel could do. Nothing that would stop Kresh from reaching Achan in time. But he had to try.
Scrabbling for grip on the polished floor, Dashiel started after Kresh. Before either of them got more than a half dozen steps, however, Achan sat up, opened his hand and blew across his palm.
A silver dust billowed out, hitting Kresh square in the face. He dropped to the floor in the same instant and skidded across the slick marble to end up in an unconscious tangle at Achan’s feet.
Dashiel ran to Achan’s side, stumbling the last few steps to kneel beside him—careful to avoid the silvery remains of what he had to assume were The Sands of Sleep.
“Are you alright?” Dashiel frantically checked Achan over—even though as a god he was unlikely to have been permanently injured. He’d only been tossed across the room. Dashiel could already feel his own wrist almost completely healed.
“I’m fine, Dashiel. He just knocked the wind out of me.”
Dashiel found himself nodding. Everything felt kind of foggy and indistinct—not real, as if it was all a long way off.
Pointing to the silvery dust, Dashiel noticed his hand was trembling and quickly put it back down. “Where did you get that from, anyway?”
Achan blushed. “I swiped it from a Somnus when he wasn’t looking the other night at the graduation party.”
Dashiel couldn’t help it. He pulled Achan in for a quick, hard kiss.
“You’re brilliant. You know that, right?”
“Um…thank you. But what do we do now?”
Dashiel’s chuckle was a little shaky, but it helped to release some of the tension still squeezing his chest. The incredibly cute blush that had flared to life in Achan’s cheeks didn’t hurt either. “I guess we send a message and get everyone here so we can start clearing your name. Know anyone that could handle that?”
The rain had passed over hours ago and a fire danced merrily in the grate, warding off the last of the winter chill. Both now safe and dry, Dashiel still felt the need to pull Achan closer to his side where they snuggled together on the couch.
The meeting with the various ruling gods and goddesses had not been pleasant. But after a few near misses and one or two initial misunderstandings, things had finally been sorted out and Achan cleared of all charges. It was scary to think how easily it could all have gone very differently, however.
Kresh had been sentenced to a swim in the Lethe—the river of forgetfulness—and from there banished far, far away from Godshome. The whole matter was to be forgotten. They didn’t want anyone else hearing about it and getting any ideas.
Personally, Dashiel was perfectly happy to forget all about it. In the end, he was just damn glad they hadn’t been sentenced to a swim as well. The court had shown amazing leniency in that regard—their actions in rescuing the Chalice having been taken into account. If the ruling body had wanted to ensure the whole incident was truly forgotten, it could have ended very badly for them both.
It didn’t detract from the near overwhelming desire Dashiel had to paddle the younger god’s ass.
“You do realise it was a complete waste of time,” he murmured against the top of Achan’s head. “A dangerous complete waste of time.”
Achan snuggled closer. “What?”
“Trying to get my attention with that little stunt at the ceremony.”
Achan squirmed against him, until Dashiel tightened his hold and stilled the nervous movement.
“It’s just…when I finally came into godhood and was all legal so to speak, I wanted you to notice me. To finally see me. I’ve already waited forever, I didn’t want to waste another second.”
Dashiel’s breath caught in his throat—knowing how much Achan had risked—how badly it could have so easily gone. And almost had.
“I would have noticed you without any of it, you know.”
“Really. In fact, I did. Before the ceremony had even begun I couldn’t take my eyes off you. Believe me, you definitely stand out in a crowd.”
“Never used to,” Achan mumbled. “You never looked twice at me before.”
“Yes I did. I just…I saw…well I was young and I saw a friend. I still do. But…”
“You left,” Achan accused. “You finished your training at the academy and you took off. You never even looked back. You never—”
“More fool me.” Dashiel swallowed hard against the knot of emotion lodged deep in his throat. “I’m sorry, Achan. I never meant to hurt you.”
“You did, you know. When you and Gareth left, it hurt so bad.”
“I’m here now. I know it doesn’t make things right, but if you’re willing to give me a chance, I promise I won’t be going anywhere again.”
“Really. Not without you. That is…if that’s what you want.”
Dashiel was surprised to see Achan looked away again. “It’s just…you kind of have a reputation.”
“As a player.”
“What?” Dashiel sputtered.
“I can’t do that, Dash. I don’t want it to be like that with us.” Achan shrugged and lowered his gaze. “I figured the only chance I had was to sneak in and steal your heart while you weren’t looking.”
Dashiel hated seeing the anxiety and shadow of uncertainty in Achan’s face. Without any warning, he moved to pin the smaller man beneath him along the length of the couch. Achan let out a surprised squeak, and then they were nose to nose—no room for ambiguity or doubt or insecurities.
“I’m not a player anymore, Achan. Haven’t been for a long time. It’s one of the reasons I never took Kresh up on his offer. I haven’t been interested in those sorts of games for years.”
Achan’s eyes were wide and Dashiel allowed one slow blink of dawning comprehension before he moved in to claim Achan’s lips.
The kiss was firm and demanding and designed to show how much he wanted to make things work between them. But just as Dashiel was about to completely lose himself to the sensation, he felt a sharp stab to his right ass cheek.
“Ow! What the—”
Looking back over his shoulder, Dashiel’s jaw dropped as he saw a golden tipped arrow clutched in Achan’s hand.
“Like I said, you do have a certain reputation, you know,” Achan said. “I plan on keeping you interested.”
Dashiel couldn’t hold in a chuckle. “Oh I’m starting to realise there’ll never be a dull moment with you around, babe. Believe me.”
“And don’t you forget it!”
Dashiel went back to kissing Achan, but not before reaching back and wrapping his hand around the arrow in Achan’s hand. He wasn’t stupid enough to risk another poke in the ass from the little imp.
Finally, pulling away to breathe, Dashiel rested his forehead against Achan’s.
“They don’t work on Cupids. We’re naturally immune.”
Achan froze beneath him as Dashiel plucked the arrow out of Achan’s suddenly unresisting hand and tossed it across the room away from them.
“Oh,” Achan said in a rather small voice.
Dashiel kissed him softly—a tender reassurance. “Doesn’t mean we don’t fall in love though.”
Dashiel smiled down at Achan—a smile full of promise. And then he went back to kissing. Something he was sure he would never get enough of, no matter how long their existence lasted.