“You may kiss the bride!”
Dionysus watched as his best friend, Triton, the God of Seafarers and Sailors, drew the lovely Sophia into his embrace and kissed her for longer than was decent at a wedding, particularly one at which half of Olympus was assembled. If he held her any tighter, her white flowing gown of pure silk would wrinkle beyond repair and be ruined forever, but neither of the two newlyweds seemed to care or even notice.
Even Dio was taken in by the picture: Triton’s blond hair and sun-kissed skin contrasted against Sophia’s long, dark hair, and while the two lovers looked like opposites, Dio knew they complemented each other perfectly.
More than one throat cleared before Triton—rather reluctantly—removed his lips from his wife’s and winked at Dio. It appeared that despite the fact that his once philandering friend was now one-hundred-percent monogamous, he hadn’t lost his sense of humor and his passion.
At least Dionysus could be sure that his friend would be happy albeit the golden cage he’d just allowed the mortal priest to lock him into. By the looks of it, Triton didn’t mind one bit. Dio shook his head and glanced at the guests who now filed past the couple one by one to express their well-wishes. As Best Man, he remained standing next to Triton, in equal parts happy and sad—happy to know that his friend had found true love, yet sad for himself to have lost his position as best friend. Sophia was Triton’s best friend now.
Sophia’s mansion had been decked out for the wedding; no expense had been spared. Not even on Olympus, the event could have been any more extravagant. The opulent house she’d inherited from her aunt and turned into a B&B to pay the inheritance taxes lent itself to affairs like this. The dining room with its fourteen foot ceiling had been cleared to accommodate the many guests present for the ceremony. The adjoining living area, which was as large as a ballroom, stood waiting with a most sumptuous buffet of the finest delicacies and some even more enticing waitresses. Flowers adorned the entire house inside and out, and the scent of roses and jasmine permeated throughout the building.
Dio watched patiently as Poseidon and Amphitrite, Triton’s parents, hugged their son and new daughter-in-law, both of them fairly beaming with pride. Even Orion, Triton’s half-brother behaved in a civil way, shaking hands rather amicably. It appeared that now that Triton didn’t represent competition for female attention anymore, Orion felt no animosity toward his sibling.
When Zeus approached, Dionysus stiffened in concert with Triton. In his designer tuxedo, diamond-studded cufflinks, and Italian dress shoes, Zeus looked like a playboy ripped from the pages of GQ Magazine: smoldering hot, powerful, and looking not a day over thirty-five. His five o’clock shadow added an air of danger, one every woman of the wedding party should head, but wouldn’t because of Zeus’ overwhelming charm.
The God of Gods congratulated the young couple and kissed Sophia on the cheek. Triton’s tension radiated outward like an ocean wave, making Dio physically aware of his friend’s possessiveness. It could be endearing at times, but at this moment, it wouldn’t be prudent to act on it. Dio put a hand on his friend’s arm, cautioning him not to do anything rash, even though he understood his friend only too well: Dio’s no-good father was well known for his love of beautiful women, and not even the presence of Hera, his head-strong wife, assured that Zeus kept his paws to himself. But hopefully he had enough sense not to make a pass at a new bride.
However, just to make sure, Dio felt the need to steer Zeus’ attention into another direction. “Father.” He nodded curtly when he caught his father’s eye. “I see you brought your wife. How nice of you.”
The narrowing of Zeus’ eyes confirmed that he didn’t like to be reminded of Hera. “Your stepmother has a way of wringing invitations out of unsuspecting people.” He shot a glance at Sophia, who had the good sense to smile, a charming, sweet smile not even Zeus seemed to be able to have any protection against.
“I thought it only appropriate to invite her. She seems such a nice woman. And after all, we’re all related,” Sophia chirped good-naturedly.
Dio refrained from rolling his eyes and noticed that the cords in his father’s neck bulged, attesting to the restraint it took him not to blow up and unleash his vile temper.
“Indeed, my dear Sophia,” Zeus ground out instead.
The knowledge that Hera’s presence at the wedding cramped Zeus’ style made Dio feel almost giddy. Anything or anybody who pissed his father off was welcome. And that included his wicked stepmother.
“One big, happy family!” Dio grinned back at Sophia before he caught a movement in the corner of his eye and turned. “Ah, if that’s not the person we’re talking about.” Just because he was glad that Hera’s presence annoyed Zeus, however, didn’t mean that he wanted to spend any time with her. Because if anybody had a chance at ranking higher on Dio’s shit-o-meter than his father, Hera sure put a good run in at that race, fighting for first place with her incorrigible husband.
Dressed in a figure-hugging long, red dress, her long dark hair draped high on her head, Hera arched an eyebrow before she nudged Zeus aside and hugged Sophia. She was beautiful, he had to grant his father that concession. But even Dio, who was no more interested in love and affection than a street vendor enjoyed a thunderstorm raining down on his goods, liked beauty with a hint of warmth. Yet, Hera’s beauty was all ice: cold—with a chance of hail.
“Congratulations, my dear. You could have done much worse than Triton.” Hera made a pause, tossing Dio a sideways glance, a sure indication that a wicked remark was in the making. “Be glad you didn’t fall for Dionysus.”
Before Dio could muster a comeback, Triton took Hera’s hand and kissed the back of it. “I’m pleased you approve.” The twinkle in his eyes couldn’t be denied, proving that his friend was too deliriously happy to have noticed Hera’s backhanded stab at Dio.
“Of your bride, I approve,” she answered pointedly. “Your choice of Best Man leaves much to be desired. Defeats the purpose of best man, doesn’t it? Best at philandering maybe, even though I believe that title belongs to his father.”
“Ouch, you wound me, Hera,” Dio countered, clutching his hand to his chest as if suffering a heart attack. Not that she was too far off the mark. He wasn’t any better when it came to relationships than Zeus. Cut from the same bone, thigh bone to be precise. But he needed no reminder of who or what he was. “Will you excuse me? It appears I need to practice since my qualifications as the number one philanderer are being put into question.”
He ignored Hera’s thinned lips and wasn’t even remotely interested in Zeus’ reaction. He simply shrugged when Triton shook his head.
Yet Sophia gave him a charming smile. “The bar is open,” she hinted.
Bless her for her understanding, because as sure as the sun rose every day, two minutes in the presence of his father and his stepmother dried out his throat like a sandstorm in the Sahara.
Dio headed for the living room, where a bar had been set up at one end, and ignored the buffet tables on which deliciously looking hors d’oeuvres played neighbor to lavish flower arrangements. Soon, the guests would descend on the food like locusts onto a field of corn albeit with less grace and manners. He gestured to the bartender to pour him a glass of Zin. He wasn’t the God of Wine for nothing. Because if Dio knew one thing, it was his wine.
He took the proffered glass and swallowed away the remnants of his conversation with Hera and his father.
“Who’s pissed into your wine?” Eros asked, slapping him on the back of his expensive three-piece Armani suit, most likely imprinting a permanent crease with his powerful hand.
Dionysus swiveled and glared at the God of Love—just the person he wanted to see right now—not! At least Eros had had the decency to leave his bow and quiver at home and looked almost at ease in his elegant grey suit. Zeus had warned that whoever gave any indication to the assembled mortals that half the guests were Gods and other immortal creatures, would be punished severely. And his father knew something about punishment.
Another slap on his shoulder announced the arrival of Hermes, the Messenger God. “Envious?” he prompted, motioning his head into Triton’s direction.
Dio jerked his gaze toward Hermes. “Of a golden cage? Think again.”
“Triton doesn’t see it as a cage.” Eros had the audacity to exchange a smirk with Hermes.
“He looks positively happy,” Hermes added. “Whereas you look like you’re drinking vinegar.” He waved to the bartender. “A glass of red, just not the same he’s having.”
“The wine is perfectly fine. It’s the company that stinks.”
Eros took a step closer. “You wouldn’t be talking about your two best friends here, would you now? Or are you in the mood for a fight?”
Maybe that was what he needed, a good bar brawl to feel like himself again. The last few weeks, helping Triton and Sophia with the arrangements for their wedding, had taken their toll. But as Best Man, he’d felt obligated to chip in and take certain errands off Triton’s hands—such as handling the guest list for the Immortals and smoothing over bruised egos. But not even he had been able to prevent Sophia’s invitation from reaching Hera.
“If I knew you’d be fighting fair, I’d love a quick hand-to-hand.”
Eros lifted his hands in a show of surrender. “Moi? Not fighting fair?” Then he looked at Hermes. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Despite himself, Dio had to grin. Hermes joined in laughter a second later. And just like that, Dio’s bad mood was gone. His friends could do that to him. That’s why he loved them. It was just a shame that they’d see so much less of Triton now that he resided in the—admittedly very charming—city of Charleston. Even Dio had a little bachelor pad here that he used on occasion, that’s how much he liked the city and the many bars. It wouldn’t be too much of a hardship to visit Triton from time to time. So, maybe very little would change after all.
“Did you notice the lovely redhead in the crowd?” Hermes asked.
“Francesca? She’s Sophia’s best friend. But don’t bother.” Dio took a big gulp of his wine.
“You think I have no chance?”
“Depends on the competition.” Dio loved needling his half-brother.
Hermes grinned. “If you’re the competition, then I’m home free.”
Eros laughed. “I’m happy to play umpire.”
Dio waved his friends off. “I’m not interested in her, but you go right ahead and compete with Zeus.”
Hermes deflated as if somebody had stuck a pin into a balloon. “That’s just so unfair. Why does he always get first dibs?”
“He doesn’t always,” Dio interrupted and smiled to himself. The delectable morsel he’d chosen for himself hadn’t entered Zeus periphery yet, and if Dio could help it, his father would never set eyes on her, at least not until Dio was done with her.
“Which means exactly what?” Hermes challenged.
Eros graced him with a knowing glance. “It appears our dear friend has found a victim that has so far escaped Zeus’ eye.”
Dio winked at the God of Love. “And that’s all I’m saying.”
“Who is she? Is she here?” Hermes asked, eagerly craning his neck to survey the crowd that had already poured into the living room and was now jostling for position in line for the buffet.
“Do I look stupid enough to choose somebody from the wedding party when I know for certain Zeus will lay claim to her as soon as he sees her?”
“Ah, so maybe one of the waitresses?” Eros interjected.
“Same difference. Once Zeus lays eyes on her, not even Francesca’s beauty can keep him from going for my girl.” Not that she was his girl yet. The lovely Ariadne had so far resisted his advances and only allowed a few chaste kisses, claiming she wanted to get to know him first. Just like Dio wanted to know her—in a biblical kind of way.
“Your girl? Dio, you wouldn’t by any chance have given up your one-night-only rule?” Hermes gave him a you’re-shitting-me look.
Dio instantly shook off the thought. “Don’t be ridiculous! Do you see me walking down the aisle anytime soon? As soon as I’ve had her, I’ll let her loose. My weeks of wining and dining her will pay off tonight.”
Eros laid his hand on Dio’s forearm. “Hold it. Are you telling me that you haven’t fucked her yet?”
Dio swallowed hard. Admitting to his friends that he hadn’t gotten a woman into his bed on the first try was like admitting to a monumental defeat. “I’m enjoying the chase.” Which wasn’t entirely untrue. Seducing Ariadne slowly had its charm.
Hermes broke out in hearty laughter. “Finally a woman who doesn’t drop her panties the moment you crook your finger.”
Anger churned up in Dio. “Believe me, she will drop her panties tonight, or I’m through with her.”
“Sounds like a dare.” Eros lifted his glass in mock-toast.
“It’s a fact!” Tonight, Ariadne would surrender to him. He’d sink into her sweet heat and finally unleash his passion on her, take her to heights she’d never known before, and make her beg for more. And then he’d do it again until the sun rose. Because once the night was over, he’d leave, sated and done with the inexplicable draw she had on him. It was that draw that had compelled him to start dating her when he never dated. All he usually had were one-night-stands. It was different with Ariadne. For two weeks now, they’d played their little game, gone out for dinners and dances, yet she’d always stopped him when he wanted to go further. With any other woman, he’d have stopped his pursuit and moved onto the next, not willing to waste his time any longer. But Ariadne held his attention.
He stared at his two friends. “Tonight she’ll be mine. And tomorrow I’ll be moving on to the next one.” He raised his glass. “Mark my words.”
As he toasted to his friends, his gaze strayed into the distance and collided with Hera’s. The glower in her icy-blue eyes confirmed that she’d heard each and every word of his conversation with his friends. The Mother Goddess wasn’t pleased.
End of Excerpt.
Copyright 2011 Tina Folsom