My Song's Curse
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Ultimate control has its downside, especially when it comes to romance. But will it be enough to keep them together?
As a siren Lula Aglaope can bend anyone to her will with the smallest whisper, but she'd give up her power for one meaningful, honest conversation.
She wants a normal life, like the open, true connections the humans seem to pull off with such little effort.
When she meets Alexiares, God of Warding off Wars, all thoughts of normalcy fly out the window. The beautiful demigod cannot be controlled! He's frustrating, irresistible...and utterly off-limits.
Alex has watched Olympus slowly fall apart. The old gods continue their archaic control of the Universe, denying the progress of humans and other deities. But Alex has plans to repair the damage, and Lula is a major player.
She just doesn't know it yet.
Falling for her is the worst idea. And just when things move in the right direction, danger arises that no one expects, plunging the sirens into the deadly Olympian spotlight.
With Lula's sisters missing, and a pile of broken laws surrounding them, will Alex and Lula change the Universe for the better or destroy it?
If you like Kevin Hearne, Molly Harper, and Shannon Mayer, you'll love this fun paranormal romance steeped in mythology!
Release date: August 31, 2020
Publisher: City Owl Press
Print pages: 318
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My Song's Curse
Being a siren sucks.
Every customer stares at me in attentive silence as I sit at the least conspicuous table in the back corner of this mom-and-pop Italian restaurant.
Well, excuse me for clearing my throat.
Going out in public wasn’t the best idea, but this afternoon, I held a heated conversation with the actors on my television. They apologized to each other with caresses and phrases of sweetness, but I ended up on the floor, hugging a pillow in the empty silence. When a show becomes my reality, it’s time to leave the house.
Now, as usual, I’ve enthralled the humans. Whoops. They study me as if the next thing I do will make their lives complete. The attention is normal, but I’m the last being they should covet, because there’s much more to my species than being a lust magnet. A few more words from my hypnotic voice and they’d lick my shoes if I asked them to. Not that I would.
So now, it’s time to return home. I push my chair back, but a shadow obscures the dim glow of overhead lights.
A man looms over me, dark and decadent, oozing charm with his confident smile. Well, hello, handsome. Other diners stand to follow him toward me.
“Stop,” I tell them. “Return to your seats. If you work here, continue your duties.” I bring my gaze to his. “You stay.”
Even though our conversation will be as fake as the actors I argued with earlier today, my heart thumps an excited beat. It’s been months since I’ve sat with someone.
I slide the empty chair out from under the table with my foot. “Sit.” I keep my voice quiet and controlled, but it’s a deep purr of promise.
He does what he’s told, waiting with a familiar expression of hope mixed with dedication plus a dash of do me. Poor humans are so easy to captivate.
I let my fork drop against my bowl of pasta primavera, creating a loud clang that shatters through the room. “Name?”
“Okay, Jordan...” I draw circles on the checkered tablecloth with my fingertips. “Tell me three things about yourself.”
He concentrates, lips pursed and eyes to the ceiling. “I play basketball, own a dog named Maizy, and I’m a nurse at Grison General in the pediatrics department.”
Wow. Mr. Oltier sounds perfect. I dig deeper just for giggles. “Do you have a wife, fiancée, or girlfriend?”
“Boyfriend?” I ask, taking another bite of pasta.
Unlike most humans, his focused pucker relaxes into a grin. “No.”
His big hands rest against the cream-colored tablecloth. They’d unzip my dress and splay across my back, hot fingers digging into neglected skin. Eagerness flares in his eyes.
I haven’t invited someone in for a long while. Each move we’d make would play out in a script with me as the director. Except I’d force my leading man to do whatever I wanted, unsure if he enjoyed himself or what he’d do if he had free will. After, he’d return to the humans, used for a night with fuzzy memories of me that would fade by the hour, while I’d hold on to every fake touch because it’s the closest thing I have to life in an empty room of endless time. I don’t want that for either of us.
Still, what’s the harm in talking about it?
I prop my elbow on the table, cupping my jaw. “What were your thoughts when you saw me? Before I spoke?”
“You were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Confident and brave. Maybe a screamer.” He lights up like the thought delights him.
He wouldn’t enjoy my screams, but his comment makes me grin. I ask him my favorite question. “What do you wish to do with me?”
“Kiss you, then tie you up ...”
Yum. I didn’t peg him as the type.
He shifts forward, his stare hard and unwavering. “And run a knife down your sternum thirty times, cutting deeper each time until I could touch your bones and play with your heart, the slickness of your blood—”
I hate it when this happens.
Chilled silence reigns in the restaurant, not because of creepy confessions but because my voice is a beacon to every creature that isn’t a siren. They stare, not at this serial killer but at me. They should rage, call the police, or run for it. Instead, they wait for my attention, hanging on each sound. I wish they wouldn’t.
“How many have you killed?” I ask.
“None,” he replies.
Relief replaces the tight hold of terror in my chest. “Do you want to kill someone?”
His enthusiasm still simmers, but I don’t appreciate this brand of passion. People tell me odd and honest things, but his confession is one of the more disturbing ones.
I lock onto his dark eyes, and my voice shifts into a deep and deliberate tone. “You will never kill. Think of how to help others instead of harming them. Pay for your dinner and leave.”
Wannabe-serial-killer Jordan walks to an empty table near the front of the room, places bills down, and glances at me over his shoulder. He nods before exiting.
Odd. They rarely look back after I order them to go.
The room is so quiet, chills raise on my arms. I’m tempted to break a plate or turn over a chair to make a racket. Even the prep workers stare, frozen in the kitchen doorway.
A man and woman walk in, stopping short in confusion. The couple follows everyone’s gazes to me, and the man give a low whistle, earning a smack on the chest from his companion. With a chuckle, he presses his lips to hers.
I want to sigh or say aw, but I bite my lip and keep quiet. I won’t ruin meaningful kisses for those able to enjoy them.
His hand sneaks around her waist, and she melts into his embrace as the world shushes, leaving them alone to savor each other. He chooses her above others, even a siren, and his body language is a gift of insight into his mind.
Eyes follow my every move as I pin money under my plate and make my way to the exit.
Squeezing past the couple, I snatch a few buttermints from a dish on the hostess stand and call over my shoulder, “I was never here.”
As I step into the warm night air, the chatter inside resumes. The customers and staff won’t recall that I took over their dining experience, and those who see me around town will remember me, but I’ll be nondescript. Forgettable. I’d love to understand why I’m this way, but even my most knowledgeable sisters tell me, “Just because, Lu.” It’s like they don’t care to find out our history and where the three original siren mothers went.
Nonetheless, my ability is as frustrating as it is a comfort. I may not have friends besides my sisters, but I’ve altered wannabe-serial-killer Jordan’s brain to a normal human mode... or he may go insane. He won’t kill anyone, though. Win? I shrug to myself.
Not ready to return to my empty house, the endless downtown sidewalks beckon me. Couples file out of bars and head home or to the beds of others. They talk in loud laughing phrases about human world things—friends, politics, and pop culture, until they notice me and staring replaces the conversation. The urge to speak up is unmanageable; I enjoyed that movie too. Yeah, the new governor is a douche, except he has good educational policies. Your girlfriend has princess syndrome.
A hush falls over the city this time of night, leaving me to meander in relative peace. The rhythmic clack of my heels echoing off brick and concrete soothe me and send my thoughts wandering to the human culture I’ve experienced this evening.
My phone buzzes in my purse and I drag it out as I check if anyone is within earshot. Few people walk the streets. Smiling at Amah’s name, I answer in a whisper. “Hello, Ma.”
“You sound happy. Why are you whispering?”
I wince. I nicknamed my oldest siren sister ‘Ma’ for a reason, not just because it fits her real name or because she’s the closest thing I have to a mother. Amah makes sure we take care of ourselves and behave. I’m one for two. “I’m walking downtown.”
The tap of her nail clicks against metal. “Tell me about tonight’s outfit,” she says, toneless.
I glance at the sheath dress that clings to my every curve like a warm hug. “Sweats.”
“Fine. My favorite green dress. I went to dinner, had primavera, stopped potential crime.” Ma won’t appreciate that. She takes a natural approach to the mortals. Farm what you need from them, then set them free.
“Oh, Lula. Only you. Let’s see it’s... my goodness, eleven where you are? Darklings and otherworldlings may be out. Please go home soon.”
The memory of my first darkling encounter makes my steps slow. Lena’s death was more than a century ago. It’s over. I shove away sad thoughts. It’s my night out on the town, my time to pretend I belong somewhere. I’ll save heartbreak for when I’m alone again.
“The otherworldlings fit in with the humans,” I say, clacking along the sidewalks. “They won’t make a scene, and I can control them if they do. Plus, the streets are empty.” Eerily so, even for the late hour on a weekday.
“I know. I just worry. Have you spoken to Gerty or Venora lately?”
“I spoke to Gerty last month, but Ven and I chatted two weeks ago.”
“Gerty isn’t returning calls. Ven’s in love, again, and has been hard to catch. She tells me he’s intense.”
“Intense?” Venora’s the romantic out of my seven sisters. I’m happy for her if she’s found another to keep her warm and off the phone, but she holds onto her sweet, doting men and women a little too long before setting them free. “Not her typical choice of companion.”
“No, he’s not. He withstands her thrall well, but she claims he’s human.”
“You think he’s an otherworldling?” The non-human species resist our ability better than humans, but they eventually succumb.
The chipped sidewalk catches my heel, and I stumble before a boarded-up building. I’ve wandered into an area of town that would terrify most people.
“I should go,” I whisper.
“Let me know if you hear from them.”
“I will. Love you, Ma.”
“Love you, too.” We hang up, and I pivot, put my phone away, and walk the direction I came.
“Mm, now there’s a fine piece.” A droning voice close behind me grabs my attention.
I spin and get a glimpse of green spiked hair before a fist rams into my midsection, and the air rushes from me in a harsh ‘whoosh.’
Crumpling, I gape my mouth to inhale, but can’t get a breath.
Two pairs of scuffed boots and three sets of colorful kicks step closer. Straightening up shoots a pang through my gut. The five men circle—sharks scenting fresh blood. Each is menacing, with piercings, scars, and bared teeth. The same devil face tattoo marks their necks. Their sick laughter promises hate and pain, and I need to speak right now. A couple puff up, jerk toward me with aggressive movements, closing in to block my exit as I gasp to find my missing air. Nothing happens but a wheeze. Not good.
“On the corner tonight, sweetheart?” One harsh voice says. “I could use a good workout.” As if I needed clarification, he steps closer to brush his hardness against my side. I move to hip check his crotch, but he hurries back, barking a laugh.
“Got a little fighter here,” he says. “Fun, fun.”
Balling my fists, I struggle to growl, but nothing comes out. I’d command them if I could only get a breath. These are the type of beings that need to be enthralled for good.
Someone jerks me upright as the man with hair like spring grass steps close, inches from my face, and shows off a cracked incisor. “What’s a high-class bitch like you doing on our turf?”
His voice is a low growl. Demon? He’d be a runt if he were. My nose tingles with lack of oxygen as I gulp at the night air that can’t find room in my lungs yet.
“This is our street, Mama. Ain’t nobody gonna save ya. Ready for me? Hmm?”
A man jogs out of the shadows. “Let her go.” He strides forward into the dim light, his jaw clenched tight. He’s wearing a plain gray tee, no tattoos cover his neck, and the ferocious scowl he wears tells me he doesn’t belong to this group.
The man next to me gives a dark chuckle, reaching into his pocket for what I’m sure is a weapon. Finally, I inhale enough air to speak. “Step... back.”
The three that haven’t yet spoken walk backward in sync. My thrall and I have a rocky relationship. This is a proud, appreciative moment.
The one holding onto me releases my arm, but Grass-head in front of me only twitches. It’s as if his body wants to move, but his mind fights it.
Coughing forces more air in, then out of my burning lungs. “Go home.”
This time, four turn and walk away without another word. The stubborn fifth remains. Some humans have more resistance than others, and since otherworldling species hold out long enough to harm those around them, I always work fast.
I hum, though it’s shaky. Three seconds of my note and he drops his proud stance. He swallows and blinks several times, then he raises his smitten gaze.
Placing my hands on my hips, I straighten so I’m as tall as he is. “Are you listening now?”
“Yes.” He nods, a tapped bobble-head doll, and relief loosens the tension in my back. At least until I notice the onlooker still stands ten feet from us. My ability should have seeped through, even if he were deaf.
Witnesses are an issue, but sometimes life throws you gang members and you have to make community servants. Or liquified bad guys. It can’t come to that, though. Not here.
I’ll handle the other man in a moment, but first, my focus falls on the enthralled asshole. I should make him jump in the sewers and let the wildlife deal with him. My sore stomach aches under my hand. “Treat women with respect. No punching, name calling, and no grinding against unwilling participants, got it? That’s just gross.”
Past his shoulder, spray paint and neglect touch everything, but between two boarded-up buildings lies a big dirt lot under a streetlight. There’s potential to give someone the purpose they need.
I point. “Start a community garden. Get your people involved and donate extra food. Go make plans.”
He scurries away, leaving me with the stranger.
The streetlight illuminates him, a spotlight on a golden-haired movie star. Tonight must be tall and handsome night. This guy better be less psychotic than wannabe-serial-killer Jordan.
I ball my fists and shove my resurfacing libido aside. My body is so desperate, it has already forgotten the punch. “Did you not hear me? Go home.”
He ambles toward me. Stubble lines his sculpted jaw. It’s been far too long since I’ve experienced stubble burn. He halts a foot from me and stares with rare golden eyes. The color is inhuman. My hands fall from my hips, power stance forgotten.
“I heard you fine, Firecracker.” His voice soothes, even though his powerful frame and towering height tempt me to step back. “Are you okay? I can’t believe they punched you. That shouldn’t have happened.”
My eyes widen. No one resists my power except my species. There are no male sirens, right? I play over every detail of siren history. The three mothers exiled from Olympus only gave birth to females then disappeared. I’m the fourth generation from the line of Agalope, second youngest of eight sirens, so I’m aware that I don’t know everything about our species like Amah does. I’m soulbound to my species though, I’d connect to this being, wouldn’t I? I’ve learned much in my hundred and eighty-two years, but a resistant male is new. He appears concerned for me. Maybe he’s slightly enthralled?
“I’m fine. Leave.”
His furrowed brow smooths to an amused angle. “Care to explain how you turned a gang of felons into future gardeners?”
What? Wait. How? Words, Lula, you can do this. “Why aren’t you headed home right now?”
“Because I’d rather be here, making sure you’re safe. Are you okay?”
I should run. I have no weapons beyond my voice. Amah has warned me time and again that my curiosity will get me killed, but I have to figure him out. “What’s your name?” He doesn’t look like a Grizaldak the Torturer.
“Call me Alex.”
That name works for him. I deepen my timbre, letting my vocal cords relax into each word. “Leave, Alex.”
He tilts his head and perfect lips purse. “I’m not sold that you want me to.”
This isn’t right. I review my list of otherworldlings with the ability to disguise themselves as human and dismiss each species that doesn’t match—no fangs, no fur, no tail. Tall, but not giant height. Two stunning gold eyes. I narrow the possibilities to a few choices. Shapeshifter, Nephilim, or incubus. Bad, worse, or worst.
I can’t deal with this tonight. If I sing my siren song, even the saintliest among beings would murder for me, but after a verse, they become sleepy and unaware that their organs are dissolving. If I hit the chorus, there’s not enough of them left to order around anymore. But releasing my power hurts even if the creature’s evil. They scream in agony, and I have guilt-laced nightmares for months.
No, thank you.
This one tried to help me though and doesn’t appear to be a danger to humans. I pivot, and the sidewalk leads me from the friendly enough bad guy.
“Hey, hold up,” Alex calls.
“Go away.” I break into a tiptoe run.
“Hey, wait.” A hand snatches my forearm within a second, and Alex spins me. I slap at him, but he snags my wrist in mid-air and plants my hand against his chest, ducking his head, face level with mine. “I won’t harm you.”
“That’s what incubi say before they suck out someone’s life force.”
The ancient song etched in my DNA spills from my lips in a rush of power. It’s a cadence from celestial tongues, except the heavenly notes bring death.
Alex’s eyes widen. Under my palm, his heart thuds a peaceful rhythm.
My voice carries with more strength, pulling deep from my soul. Releasing it makes my body hum, but my thoughts seize up as I wait for the disaster to come. When I get to the chorus, he bites his smiling lip, and the song dies in my throat.
“Beautiful. You’re a siren.”
He knows what I am. And he’s still standing. How in the hell is he still standing? His face isn’t showing pain. He’s grinning like the guy at the restaurant did at his companion.
Oh, shit. Not good.
Fear sends tendrils of tightness to every muscle in my body. Black spots threaten my vision as my overwhelmed mind merry-go-rounds and the ground sways. Alex moves in, supporting me with a strong arm. “Hey, it’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
He must have calming pheromones because the heat of his skin calls to mine and I sink into his hold, breathing in his sweet citrus scent. Focus, Lula. Incubi are masters of seduction, but even an incubus wouldn’t smile at my song. They wouldn’t hold me as if I belonged in their arms, because they’d be busy on the ground, having their insides liquefied.
“What are you?” I ask.
Alex’s amused expression falters, sending tightness through me again. I try to jerk away, but he clings and blurts out, “A demigod.”
No way. A deity on earth? There’s the slightest glow to him, a confident golden hue that draws me to him, telling me he’s here to help. No otherworldling has that.
My palm lies over the heart of a god.
I’ve never met a deity. Amah says they abandoned the Earth long before I was born.
He—Alex—observes me, squinting. In the old days, people worshipped the gods that visited Earth in preposterous ways, right up to tossing themselves off cliffs to gain the divine’s favor. Three decades ago, a nymph told me she came across two and tried to please them, but they wouldn’t accept anything from her, only wanted to talk about humans and otherworldlings. Maybe this deity has questions too.
I breathe slowly, attempting to tame my speeding heart. “What’s your real name?”
He leans forward, millimeters from my cheek, warm breath brushing my ear. “Alexiares.”
I shudder, letting that information settle. I’ve studied him—the demigod who wards off wars. The son of Hercules and grandson of Zeus, the king of Olympus. Damn.
My eyes wander his features, searching for any clue to the phenomenon that is this deity. “I don’t affect you?”
“Oh, you affect me.”
Unable to keep the sarcasm at bay, I groan and step back from him. “My ability, I mean. Siren, remember?”
“Did you just eyeroll at a deity?”
I grin instead of performing the thousand apologies I’m sure he’s expecting. My power doesn’t work on him. I’m still wavering between belief and impossibility. It’s a flaw, a dream, a crazy oasis mirage envisioned in a desert when I need it the most, except I’m not thirsty for water. I’ve never had an honest conversation with a male.
His full grin is disarming. “No, your ability doesn’t affect me. You could ask me to kiss you and it would have no impact on me.”
Intrigued, I eye his lips. “Really? Kiss me.”
With a step forward, he cups the back of my head, fingers threading through my hair, and peruses my features with intent I’ve only seen in romance movies.
I’d contemplate that look, but he inches forward. Chills rise in response to the electricity shifting between us. I didn’t believe he’d kiss me.
He’s a deity.
He’s also a stranger, and I should pull away.
“No impact, huh?” I whisper.
“Just a taste. Tell me to stop.” His eyes search mine.
He radiates warmth, smells like my best dreams, and for one moment, I want someone to kiss me because they want to.
I relax into the hand cupping my head, tilt my chin up ...
Just a taste.
Bad idea, Alex.
Remaining in the shadows was the plan. I shouldn’t have stepped in when I damn well knew Lula could handle things on her own.
For the first time in centuries, I didn’t think things through.
I move to let her go, but her head fits perfectly in my hand, fusing my splayed fingers against her silky red curls. Imagining what touching her would be like couldn’t capture the warmth of her or the impact when she’s focused on me. I’ve watched her for a year, but unlike now, her gaze has never found me. The green is piercing, the exact shade of a chrysoprase stone. She stares up at me in a challenge that, were I a demon or a werewolf, would make my inner beast rage. I’m a god and should have better control, but still, all of me bends to her temptation.
I dip. My head spins with the faint, ghosting kiss I give her.
By the gods.
She’s so soft.
Her scent recalls memories of picking berries after a rainstorm, and I’m unwilling to stop myself from pressing harder, teasing her lips to part. Lula grips my shirt with one delicate hand, while wrapping her other fingers around my bicep and with the slightest exhalation, she opens to me.
She tastes of mint and garlic. An odd combination, but on her, it works. The temptation to cage her in and sample every flavor on her makes my head spin, but darkness shades the moment.
We shouldn’t be this close. She stands on a path I’m not allowed to travel. My grandfather and his Council of old gods made sure of that long ago. Mingling with non-deities is illegal, and I can’t give him any opportunity to strike out when my most-trusted friends and I are closing in on the changes the universe needs. I have to keep Lula safe and content. We need her.
I slow, kissing her with a few gentle teasing pulls. She nips my lip, stopping me from pulling away, making me smile.
She’s not like other sirens. Despite the human world’s rumors, most sirens are shy and kind for a race that could take anything they wanted and annihilate any Earth being with a song. Lula is kind, but there’s an edge to her the others lack.
Her judgment is also better than mine because she flinches and she gives me a last peck before she breaks away. I follow, but she keeps us separate with a hand on my chest, blinking at me with owlish eyes. “I took the bait there, didn’t I?”
I cover her hand with mine. “You did, but I’m the one who’s hooked.”
I can’t help playing with her. Rath explained the things she’d done with the humans. If they fell under her spell, she’d make them tell her a joke or ask them about the sweetest thing that ever happened to them. She doesn’t use harsh commands unless needed, like this evening. Some people need a hard stop placed on their inner demons. Some demons need control too, and I believe she can do that as well. It’s why I’m here.
I get an arched eyebrow response. “Nice one.”
Her sassy smirk makes me want to kiss those perfect lips again. I’ve met few women who know what I am and haven’t fallen over themselves attempting to impress me: bowing, speaking words of submission. Hell, they’ve even turned and lifted skirt, offering their body as worship.
Never an eyeroll.
In my younger days, I relished in their offerings, but the excitement wore off long ago when I realized the divine’s gods-awful ways. Repairing this world takes precedence over play, even with a tempting green-eyed otherworldling.
A little growl of frustration escapes, and I clear my throat, attempting to disguise it. “Would you like to go somewhere?” Her eyebrows raise and I add, “To talk.”
I can’t tell her everything—that will come on a carefully-laid timeline—but I need to establish a relationship now that I’ve misstepped into the light.
Lula shifts on her feet. “It’s late.” Her expression doesn’t match her deterring words. She catches the middle of her bottom lip under her teeth and lowers her gaze.
Her curls shift, tempting me to touch them as she studies the streets and blows out a long breath. “Why?”
Because you’re a piece of the plan. Because I’m intrigued for more. Because I’m dying for you to look at me as I’ve been looking at you.
“I’ve never had a conversation with a siren.”
“I’ve never spoken to a deity.”
Yes, she has.
I tilt my head. “That makes us a good match for a talk, yeah?”
Lula pivots. The clack of her shoes against pavement thumps through my chest. She blinks at me over her shoulder and my entire body shocks to attention. “Location will be an issue,” she whispers. “If humans hear me, they will cause a scene.”
“I have a place in mind.” I pull my phone from my pocket and text Comus, She saw me. We’re going to the gastropub. Get a private alcove and tell Rath to take Zeph home.
We can’t have Lula believe we’re associating with a human psycho.
“It’s about a ten-minute walk. Are you okay in those?” I point to her heels.
“Yes. I like to walk.”
“Me too.” I sidle up next to her and head toward the restaurant.
“Is that why you’re out here?” Her eyes flit around the night. Broken buildings and garbage laden streets make her lips tighten and her brows knit to a stressed concern.
“I needed to walk.” I leave out the part where I needed to walk after her to see what she did after the restaurant. There could have been trauma from her encounter with Zeph. Instead, she met The Bringers and handled them too, after a strike to the gut. I could end Chaos right now for touching her. “Are you hurt? After that punch?”
She lifts one shoulder. “I’m fine. My name is Lula. You haven’t asked.”
“I was giving you your privacy.” That one puts a sour taste in my mouth.
“But kissing me was—”
My phone buzzes. It’s either Comus calling to get a full rundown or Rath calling to laugh at me. Rath’s been pushing for contact with Lula for a while. He told me I’d crack one day, and I wasn’t allowed to be an idiot around her. That conversation can wait.
“Kissing you was unexpected, and I’m not going to lie. It was decent. Nice meeting you, Lula.”
A wave of emotions swims across her face: happy, amused, insulted, quickly followed by giddy. “Decent?” Then annoyance as the buzz sounds again. “Is that a phone?”
I wet my lips and drag my cell from my pocket. As soon as I answer, I blurt out, “You will not believe my night. I met a siren.” Lula appears ready to bolt, and I take her hand and turn the phone to the side. “It’s my friend Comus.”
“Tell me I’m not on speaker,” Comas says, his voice stifled against the music and hum of a crowd.
The God of Revelry can find the best locations and amplify the mood to an excited boiling point. Each visit here makes returning to Olympus more difficult for all of us. Humans are fun.
“No. We’re headed to the gastropub. Meet us there?”
Lula’s eyes widen and I squeeze her hand.
“Rath’s already there,” Comus says. “I’m on the way. Is she okay?”
“Excellent. See you in a few.” I hang up and let go of Lula’s hand. “Two of my friends are meeting us there, if that’s okay?”
Her lips part, but she says nothing.
I slide in front of her and walk backward. “They’re also deities.” Following, she nibbles on that lip again, and I halt. Stumbling, she almost runs into me, but I grab her waist and hold her close without a second thought.
She startles like a shocked cat and takes a step back. “I need time to... process.”
“Sorry,” I say. “I should have mentioned my friends first. The abilities of otherworldlings don’t affect deities. I think we’ve proved that to be true today, yeah?” I tilt my head and give her a grin, hoping she won’t run for it. “The gastropub is a public location, but there are private alcoves. It’s quiet and you shouldn’t have any issues speaking.”
“I’m familiar with the gastropub. Why?” She crosses her arms. “Why are you here? Why me? What are deities doing on Earth? My sis—someone told me the gods disappeared. Sorry, I shouldn’t be asking but—”
“You’re curious. It’s fine.” I turn, signaling toward the path again. “We haven’t had a presence here for a long while.”
Rath is far too young to remember when humans worshipped our kind in person, but the older deities that remain crave to walk the Earth realm again. Humans’ progressive minds flourish when they connect to our influence and attributes, and we benefit as well. It took several hundred years to convince my grandfather to allow us to travel for research. He hasn’t yet realized that our findings will unseat him from his throne if all goes according to plan.
“And now…” Lula trails off as two men walk toward us.
They leer at her, ignoring me. I quicken my step and offer an elbow. The expression she aims at me is an awed shock. She slips her hand in the crook of my elbow and smiles.
Her siren call is stronger than my edge of divine influence, and the humans stop and stare. I’m not sure how each siren acts when mortals flock to them, only three. One of Lula’s sisters basks in the attention, the other ignores it. Lula’s mood about the attention changes, though I’ve only seen her out and about a few times. She respects the humans, staying silent and only demanding necessities. Even when her abilities frustrate her, and a group follows her, a flock of sheep to a shepherd, she stays patient and level-headed.
We stay silent, which I appreciate. A little information at a time is a better dose than feeding her from a firehose. It would scare her away. Comus will be better at a gentle introduction. By meeting her, I’ve altered my plans. I should separate from her to think through the next steps before I accidentally blurt out everything.
The gastropub’s old wooden door stands open under a green and white striped awning. I get another sweet waft of her scent as she moves by me into the lobby. Dark-stained wood covers every surface of the restaurant except for a stretch of red brick wall and the leather seating. Amber tinted lights further warm the cozy ambiance. The bar is full of humans laughing and talking over one another as a TV blares a hockey game. I offer my arm again before the crowd notices Lula, and when she latches on, I walk her toward the back.
Rath sits on the edge of the private alcove’s booth, shoulder brushing the tethered red privacy curtain. He tilts his head, piercing eyes squinted as he observes Lula. I glare at him as if any expression of mine would make his stubborn ass behave. Weathering his gibes for the next month will be hell, but I deserve it. I may as well have the words, ‘doing what I shouldn’t be,’ written on my forehead.
As we approach, Comus leans forward, resting crossed arms on the table, not hiding his amused expression. “Having a nice night?” His attention falls to Lula’s hand tucked against my arm. She leans into me.
“Yeah,” I say. “This is Lula.”
She untangles herself from me and sits when I signal to the U-shaped booth. Leather creaks as she slides toward Comus to make room for me.
Rath wears his usual brooding expression but, always the gentleman, Comus offers a hand to shake. “Good evening. I’m Comus.”
Lula shakes his hand but says nothing.
“Having a nice time tonight?” Rath asks. His intense study of her makes me bristle. We may need to learn her but that doesn’t mean he needs a second by second observation of her reactions.
Shifting closer to Lula, I shake my head in a way that would appear to others that I’m moving my hair around, but Rath drops his eyes and takes a swig from his glass.
Lula opens her mouth, gives the faintest wince, and presses her lips together. Comus sends me a questioning glance, and I nudge Lula. “You can speak. You won’t affect them, either.”
Her wide-eyed expression makes me chuckle. Did she not believe me when I told her they were deities as well?
I lean to whisper in her ear. “And if you do, don’t worry, I’ll fight them off.”
My jesting statement earns me an enticing smirk, which holds my attention until Comus clears his throat. The guys stare hard. They’ll question my behavior later. We’ve discussed how this would go, and for once, I’m not following protocol. The closer I get to her, the harder it is to put her through tests. It’s wrong and I don’t want her hurt or scared, even if she may be able to save us all.
Rath taps a quick beat on the table, telling me in wordless reproach to get my shit together.
“Gentlemen, meet Lula. Lula... you met Comus. The other one is Rath.”
Lula smiles and gives a wave.
Comus folds a beverage napkin. He’ll make a throwing star or bird. “What’s with the silent treatment, pretty lady?”
She tucks her hair and shifts, putting her an inch closer to me.
A waitress approaches, smiling wide and keeping her eyes on Rath. “How about another round?” She sets two waters on the table.
“Yes. Also, the same for my friend and a…” he eyes Lula. Rath told me she always orders Chianti, but he better not blurt that out and scare her. This fragile moment has no room for his antics. “Fruity rum drink?” His tone is one of distaste, as if he’s offering a moldy sandwich.
Lula shakes her head with a smile, and I release the breath I was holding.
“Maybe wine, then? They have a stellar Chianti, which appears to be the red of the year.”
That makes her smile and nod, but the waitress only gawks at her, attention now off Rath. Lula shrinks back into the leather seat.
“Chianti and beer,” I say, tapping the woman’s hand to draw her attention from Lula. “Please.”
She saunters off and Lula glances at me. She’s as fluttery as a bird readying to take flight.
“She’s a siren,” I say before she can try to bolt.
Comus takes the last swig of his beer and sets the origami bird in front of Lula. “That’s what you said on the phone, but I didn’t believe it. What a rare find. Are the myths true?”
Lula purses her lips and pats the head of the paper figure with her finger.
This conversation isn’t going anywhere if she won’t speak.
As if getting kissed stupid wasn’t enough excitement for the night, I’m meeting Alex’s friends—his god friends from Olympus—on the same night I run into a wannabe serial killer and a gang.
My evening makes no sense.
I’ve never spoken to a man before. Not really. Every conversation I’ve had was dragged from them by the force of my thrall. Now, one has treated me like we’re dating, one gave me a present, and the other ordered me a drink. And I didn’t request any of those things.
I’m far off kilter, nervous and leery, because this can’t be real. I need to calm down and get my brain working again because we’re all staring at each other in this alcove of awkward. They’ve asked me questions and denying a deity anything isn’t something you do, according to lore, but what if Alex is an anomaly and I enthrall his friends?
Alex runs a finger over my knuckles, and I latch onto his hand, embarrassed, but I can’t let go. He’s warm and real. He touched me on his own accord.
Rath’s icy blue stare burns into me. Attractive is an understatement with those cheekbones, but there’s darkness in him as he studies me like a tiny bug he could squash flat at any moment. I shiver under his intense roving concentration until his gaze falls to my breasts, his lips forming a faint ‘O.’ Yep. Still a dude.
The waitress drops off drinks and asks about food but my brain is still on the merry-go-round, so I ignore her. The Chianti is smooth and dry with a tart finish. It warms a path to my belly.
Rath refocuses on my face. “Got any sisters?”
I release Alex’s hand to show seven fingers.
He makes an approving hum. “Big family for such a rare race.”
A short, breathy snicker escapes me, and I glance past the table to make sure no mortals are within earshot.
Alex nudges me. “Not big then?” He raises his eyebrows, asking me to answer.
No humans are close by. I nibble my lip and take another sip of wine. “No. There are few of us in the world.”
“What do you command, milady?” Comus asks, leaning forward. His intent, reverential expression reminds me of everyone I’ve ever spoken to besides Alex and my sisters. My stomach plummets before the corner of his mouth raises. “Too soon?”
“Ugh.” I jab a finger in his direction. “That was not funny.”
The tension around the table dissipates with the laughter of the gods, and I can’t help joining. It’s inconceivable that I’m not alone in the night. A little knot forms in my chest, and I take a deep breath, attempting to soothe it out.
“Tell me about these sisters, Lula,” Rath says. “Are you close in age?”
Alex shifts and drops his arm on the top of the booth behind me.
“No,” I say. “Hazel’s the youngest. She turned fifty-one last month. My oldest sister, Amah, is over two thousand, but she stopped counting a while ago. Says it makes her feel old.”
Everyone laughs, and for once I’m part of the group of friends I’ve observed in restaurants, bantering with each other. Unlike the humans, this group understands the longevity of ages. They’re not bound by mortality. How old are they? Alexiares is mentioned in old tomes and I’ve heard the name Comus. A thousand years or more?
“Few sirens exist,” Comus says. “The scarce information in our archives state that you call each other sisters, but cousins may be more suitable, I think?”
There are archives with siren lore? Do these deities know what happened to the first sirens? I shift forward. Maybe they understand how my species came about.
“Yes,” I say and keep my eyes on Comus though I’m not sure what to look for. No one has ever lied or kept information from me. “The original three Mothers bore a daughter each before they disappeared. Their lines are separate, but we’re as close as sisters. Only daughters are born, and it’s a rare occurrence.”
I scrunch my nose. I shouldn’t have told them that. Since I was little, Amah has drilled in my head to keep siren facts in the family, but I want to share. It’s new and irresistible. “Do you know where the Mothers are?”
“No,” Comus says. “Until recently, I’d never met a siren.” He smiles and signals at me.
I glance at Alex, but he gives a quick shake of his head. He takes a breath and opens his mouth—
“What does Hazel look like?” Rath asks, blue eyes burning.
I smirk. Hazel and I are from the same line of Aglaope as is Hazel’s birth mother Venora. “Brunette with green eyes like mine. She’s lovely.”
“I bet. Would she like me?”
Rath’s seeking stare sends a chill over my spine, but I refuse to turn away. “You may be too much for her. She’s lighthearted... sensitive.”
Comus waggles his eyebrows as he sips his beer. “Perhaps I should meet Hazel?”
Ignoring Rath’s disapproving snort, I scrutinize Comus. Warm copper skin reminds me of late day sun peeking through fall leaves. Trimmed hair matches the shade of Hazel’s. A toothy grin peeks out from his short beard, and intelligent acorn-brown eyes dart around, taking in everything as though he’s envisioning how to use the world to his advantage. He’s a contemplative autumn to Rath’s refreshing winter chill and Alex’s passionate summer swelter. And here I am a fresh spring doe taking in a brand-new world.
“I believe Hazel would like you very much,” I say, lifting my chin.
Though I doubt she’d speak at all in the presence of deities. Could this introduction lead to the sirens coming out of hiding? I hate that we all live so far away. The world has changed since Lena died, but Amah still insists that we spread ourselves across the globe to prevent our extinction and also to protect the humans.
Rath glances out of the alcove, then dissipates into a haze of gray mist before disappearing completely, and before I can question what the hell is going on, his face pops up inches from mine. “I’d be too much? How so?”
“Eep!” I slap his solidifying cheek and scramble back as far as possible in the booth. “Dammit! How about a warning before introducing a shade?” I clamp my palm over my mouth, and my face heats. These are not my sisters or humans. I’m talking to deities... Maybe. That makes little sense though. No otherworldling can resist my thrall, not that I’ve tested each one, but Amah probably has.
Alex pries off my hand and squeezes my fingers. “He isn’t a shade, Firecracker. We don’t get along well with any of the darkling species.”
Rath reappears in his seat, rubbing his shocked face. “You slapped me.”
“You deserved that,” Alex says.
Rath’s jaw is half dropped as he points to his red cheek. “She slapped me.”
“Yeah, she did.” Comus swishes his hand. “Nice shot, Lu. Had a cacophonous crack to it.”
“Tell me what you are,” I command Rath, then grimace. He’s proven he’s immune to me.
He remains silent in shock, according to his expression, so Alex answers for him. “He’s the God of Shadows. Rath’s attributes are different than most. One grants him the ability to slip between Earth and a shadow realm whenever he pleases.”
That sounds important, like a god of the sun or tides. Great job, Lula. “Sorry, I didn’t mean... I just, shades fade and ...” My throat rasps. “I haven’t heard of you.”
Alex kisses my palm, laughing breaths tickling my skin. Silence pulls my attention. Comus eyes Alex with crinkled brows, and Rath’s stare is blatant. Alex’s actions toward me do not appear to be something he does regularly. That is a relief, yet not. If he doesn’t wander the streets at night, kissing otherworldlings and taking them to meet his friends, then why am I here?
Alex lowers my tense hand to my lap, releasing his hold and picks up his glass. “Rath belongs to the new generation of divine beings which haven’t been revealed to the humans. Our baby boy is three-hundred and twenty.”
“Don’t call me that,” Rath grumbles.
“You’re older than I am,” I say.
He’s on the border of amusement before catching himself and glowering again.
Alex lifts his mug, pausing before he drinks. “How old?”
“One-hundred and eighty-two. You?”
“A smidgen past three-thousand, but I was in a dormant child state for a third of those years.”
Wow. A smidgen? In human years that would be like saying you’re a smidgen past twenty-nine when you’re thirty-three. What happens when you’re three thousand? And he was stuck as a child? The information my sisters and I studied on the divine gave a bland description of the gods and their attributes. Two hundred questions lie on the tip of my tongue, but the waitress returns.
“We’re closing up.” She sets the check on the table and as I reach for my purse, Comus leans to set a credit card on top. With a grin, she picks it up and tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear as she eyes Rath. “Thanks. Are you all going anywhere else tonight? Maybe... Um.”
Now these expressions I understand. It’s irritating not being able to tell her to ask, like I do to my television when a character wants something but is shy about it. You clearly have a thing for the intense God of Shadows. Speak up so I can see what happens.
Rath gives her a kind smile and leans forward, elbows on the table. “We have to go home. My goddess will miss me if I’m out too late.”
Interesting. He sure is flirty to be going home to a goddess. Have I heard of her? Do they live in Olympus and where is that?
“Oh.” The woman fiddles with a few pens poking out of the apron tied around her waist. “Goddess? That’s sweet.” The poor thing tugs at the black cloth as if it may grow enough to hide behind. “I’ll be right back with this. ”
She skitters off and Alex squeezes my fingers. “Did you drive or do you need a ride home?”
“I drove. I’m parked at Sal’s Italian Bistro.”
A jolt of disappointment flows through me and amplifies as Alex slides out and offers his hand. “That’s only a block away. I’ll walk you to your car.”
Rath gives a grunt I believe means ‘Bye’, and Comus beams at me. “See you later, Lula.”
See me later? We’ll probably never meet again. I give a weak smile. “Thanks for the wine. It was nice meeting you.”
Nice, is far underplaying the energy bursting from my chest. I haven’t experienced a real conversation with a stranger ever, and here I am with three.
Alex leads me from the gastropub and across the street. “I want to see you again.”
With a tug to my elbow, he turns me to him. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re a deity and I’m a siren. Why are you here? On Earth, I mean.”
Alex runs his knuckles against my cheek, golden eyes following the path of his fingers. The touch scatters my thoughts. He steps closer, and I lift my chin. Is this how it is for humans? I’m too warm, trembling with anticipation of another kiss.
A whoop makes us jerk our heads toward the interruption. A young couple laughs.
“Leave,” I growl before thinking. Oh, no.
The man and woman bolt, as do a small group a few buildings down. I step away from Alex, a chill of regret replacing the previous heat. That was not the right thing to do. I press my fingers to my forehead and turn to walk toward my car.
Alex steps beside me. “You’re powerful.”
“That should not have happened. Sorry.”
“It’s fine, Lula.”
“It’s not. Do you know what happens to humans who fall under a siren’s thrall?”
“No. Tell me.”
Why would I offer to share this? No creature should be able to do what sirens can. It’s not fair for anyone.
I wrap my arms around my waist as I slow to a halt. I can’t face him, so instead I keep my eyes on a crack in the pathway. “The first time confuses them. Short term memories will blur and they won’t be able to grasp at distinct moments. It’s like asking an elderly human to recall their prom; they’ll get the gist but may forget their date’s name or what restaurant they went to. If I were to continue, synapses would break. Their date would disappear completely, the songs they danced to… gone. More than a few days under my repeated thrall and their past would go. Then their present.”
We are all different. Some siren’s abilities are stronger than others. For my victims, permanent dementia would take root after a couple of days, complete catatonia within a week, then seizures, and brain death. Venora can stay with a person for months and their mind will stay intact. That shouldn’t make me jealous, we’re all built to harm, but she can pretend with someone for a bit—form a shred of a bond that will last in her memories. I can have a scripted night.
Alex tilts my chin up. His lips part to say something, but I turn my face. He’ll either tell me something false like what I do is no big deal or he’ll spout the truth. I don’t want to hear that I’m a monster. Not tonight and not from him.
“Hey,” he says. “Come on.”
He brushes his fingers over my crossed arms and finds my hand. I’ve never held hands with someone. Not like this, when his grip is commanding. With a gentle tug, he leads me back into a walk. His unexpected thoughtfulness stabs my chest, tightening my throat and forcing me to swallow. Too soon we stand in front of my little convertible.
“Give me your phone,” he says. “And I’ll put in my number.”
He would give me another night like this one? I drag my phone out of my small black bag and hand it over. “Is this a good idea?”
Is he crazy?
Are the legends Amah told me true, and the major gods would destroy or curse a non-deity for consorting with a deity? Something about the threat of mixed blood, I’ve been told. I’m one of the accursed and unable to ask the missing Mothers what they did to get my species cast out of Olympus, so I better not attempt a second strike against the sirens. Just a taste.
Alex taps on my phone and gives off an amused huff. “I’d like to get to know you better.”
A ring sounds from his phone. He swipes mine off and returns it.
I click the locks open and turn, but Alex pulls me back and gives me a gentle kiss that melts the flutter in my belly. “It was the utmost pleasure to meet you, Lula.”
I’ll never see him again. I memorize the hue of his eyes, the slope of his nose, his scent of sun and that sweet but unfamiliar citrus. If I ever come across the fruit, it will transport me to this exact moment. I smile and give a quiet, “Mmhmm,” not trusting my voice to come out as strong as it should when speaking to a deity.
“I will call you.” His eyes crinkle as if he wants to talk more or ask me something. Instead, he shoves his hands into his pockets and glances down the street.
“I’m so glad I met you, Alex,” I blurt out in a pathetic rush.
He opens my door and lifts my hand, rubbing his thumb across my knuckles, sparking every nerve in my body to life. “Me too. I’ll talk to you soon. Sleep well.”
I step in, and with a sharp, echoing clunk of the shutting door, I’m alone again. Key in the ignition, my car purrs, and I steal one last glimpse at Alex before pulling away from the curb.
Best night ever.
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