A warm breeze tickled the air, bringing with it the smell of honeysuckle and sunshine. A flash of light momentarily blinded him, and when Athan’s vision cleared Apollo stood in the doorway of the kitchen. The blond god of light, prophecy, and medicine arrived barefoot. His skin was sun kissed, and he wore a pale linen skirt trimmed in gold that fell to his knees. A bronze sash hung from his left shoulder to his right hip. Apollo was muscular, and his face was both beautiful and terrifying.
“Foolish girl.” His harsh words seemed at odds with his melodic voice.
The woman turned, and the phone slipped from her fingers.
“It is fulfilled.” He stepped toward her, his lips flattened in accusation. “You did not even give me a chance. One rash decision, and your fate was sealed. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do. Do you understand?” His nostrils flared. “I would have made you happy.”
With a moan, she sank to the floor and buried her face in her hands.
Hope looked up from the bouquets to see the shadows at the back of the stall shift. A short man dressed in black advanced, his step both graceful and predatory.
This was not the same man she had seen by the Fish Market earlier, and yet his movements were eerily similar, as were his pale skin and dark eyes.
Her heart rate doubled, and instinctively, she stepped back. Her conversation with Priska came crashing back to her. She knew what this was.
“Leto! Hope!” Priska’s petite figure pushed through the crowd toward them. Time seemed to slow.
Leto took the change from the vendor and turned toward her best friend, her expression morphing from excitement to terror. The paper-wrapped bouquet slipped to the ground.
Hope’s eyes shifted from her mother to her aunt, and her muscles tensed even as her vision tunneled. Out of the corner of her eye, the dark figure was coming straight for them. She suppressed the cry that bubbled up her throat.
Priska crashed into them, grabbing at both of them with shaky limbs. Her head jerked side to side, her eyes bulging. “Holy Hades! WHAT IN THE NAME OF ALL THE GODS ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
She swallowed. “I thought I made it clear that I’m not. Interested, I mean. In friends, or dating.”
“But why not?” He took a step toward her, and his voice softened. “Will you just . . . let me be your friend?”
“I’m not looking for friends.”
“Well, I am.”
Hope snorted. “I’ve seen your parade of friendships over the last week.” She grimaced. “I’m not interested in cuddling in the library, or meeting you at my locker.”
He chuckled. “That is not what I meant. Besides, not one of those girls was looking for friendship.” He tipped his head at her. “For being so uninterested, you sure notice a lot.”
“Noticing and caring are hardly the same thing.”
“How was your weekend?” Athan asked.
He stood at her locker staring at her. It was the oddest sensation. A mixture of pride and anxiety coursed through her, and she wanted to giggle and run away. “Fine. I hung out with—”
“Hey Hope.” Haley bounced up. “How are you?” She smiled at Athan as if just noticing him. As if. She turned back to Hope. “Oh, I was going to ask you, have you had any more phone calls?”
And so much for secrets.
“Phone calls?” Athan frowned.
Hope rolled her eyes. “No.” She turned to Athan. “It was nothing. Just a wrong number, but they kept calling back. Kinda freaked me out.” She snapped her locker shut.
“You two hung out?” Athan asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.
“Well, yeah,” Haley said. “That’s what friends do, you know.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard.” He gave Hope a hard look.
“What?” She asked him. “We hung out on Friday.” Why was he acting all weird?
“I bet she didn’t have to coerce you to hang out,” he grumbled.
The three of them walked down the hall drawing several stares.
“Of course not,” Haley responded. “My motives aren’t questionable.”
Hope laughed and walked into mythology, but she still heard him . . .
“There is nothing questionable about my motives, either.”
The box slipped from her hands, the contents spilling on the asphalt. The sleeve of her mom’s sweater landed in the gutter, the splash of red contrasting with the darkness around her.
Even before she turned to the car, the fermented stink of alcohol wafted on the breeze. Two men, just more than shadows, came from the left, their drunken gait slow as they ambled toward her car. Even if she ran, she couldn’t get in the car before they reached her. She sucked in a deep breath.
Adrenaline washed through her body, and her muscles tensed. The sound of her heartbeat pounded in her ears, pages of a book rustled in the wind, and then the sharp intake of breath from a man.
The shorter man leered, and his brown eyes bespoke his mortality, and his smirk promised pain. His fist clenched the handle of something. A hammer? No, a wrench.
The taller man’s gait was steady, and something about his features was . . . off. Wrong. Washed out. And . . . his eyes! Two solid orbs of pitch.
His hand stroked her collarbone, just the tips of his fingers grazing her skin. Over and over. He regarded her, his eyes filled with wonder. “I have to say, Hope Treadwell, I’m interested in you.” His hand circled her neck, his fingers winding into her hair. As he leaned in, his lips brushed her ear. “Very interested.”
She said nothing but forced herself to meet his eyes. Her heart pounded, running its own race, and her knees trembled.
His hand cupped her chin, and his thumb stroked her lower lip. He brought his head low enough that their breath mingled.
Her eyes fluttered. Waiting.