The Goddess Hunt

Page 2


I rounded on James. “You dragged me out into the middle of nowhere to check on two people who clearly want nothing to do with you? And who have no problem punching your lights out?”
James shrugged sheepishly. “It’s been a while. I wanted to see how they were.”
A wolf howled in the distance, and all four of us turned in the same direction at once. It would’ve been funny had Lux and Casey not looked so terrified.
“You can either come with us or piss off. Doesn’t matter to me,” said Lux, tugging his brother in the opposite direction. This time Casey didn’t struggle.
They hurried off, and James started to follow, but I held him back. “We’re seriously going to have a sleepover with someone who just tried to grind your bones into dust?”
He shrugged. “They’re my brothers.”
“No, we’re not,” called Lux. “Casey’s my brother. You’re an unfortunate relation I try to forget exists.”
James grinned. “Can’t take it personally. They say that about the whole family. Come on, I haven’t caught up witidtaught uh them in ages—just one night.”
He gave me a pleading look that should’ve been illegal, and I groaned. “You’re an ass. There better be indoor plumbing.”
“There isn’t.”
I elbowed him. Hard.
“Coming or not?” called Lux, far enough away now that his voice was distant. I gave James one more good glare, and together we raced through the underbrush to catch up with the twins.
After half a mile of trudging through the forest, we came to an abandoned cottage hidden by deep thickets and tangles of vines. If Lux and Casey hadn’t led us to the front door, I would’ve missed it entirely. “It looks like it belongs in a fairy tale,” I said.
“Don’t get too attached.” Lux undid an old wooden latch and pushed open the door. The inside was dark, but he waved his hand, and a fire roared to life underneath a stone mantel. Everything inside looked straight out of a historical movie set—handcrafted furniture, not crude but certainly not made by machines. No sink or refrigerator, just a simple wooden table with two place settings. And a single bed that couldn’t possibly hold more than two people.
“It’s nice,” I said warily. “Cozy.”
Lux let out a bark of laughter. “It’s cramped and probably older than we are.”
“We use it on occasion,” said Casey, who was busying himself at the table. “Haven’t been back in a while though. Is anyone hungry? We managed to score some game on our way here.”
“Game?” I said.
“Yeah, rabbits.” Casey held up a platter full of sliced meat, and my stomach churned. “It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough.”
I shook my head. “We ate back at the hotel. Thanks though.”
“Who’s this we you speak of?” said James. “I’m starving.”
Casey smirked. It was easy to tell them apart when they were talking, but that look on his face reminded me entirely too much of his brother. He fixed two plates, heaping each with what had to be an entire rabbit. “Help yourself. Lux, eat.”
While James attacked his food, Lux grunted and sat down heavily at the table, digging in with his bare hands. I glanced at James, searching his face for some explanation as to why these two were living in the fifth century, but he was too busy chewing to notice.
“I’m sorry, we didn’t have the chance to introduce ourselves properly back in the forest.” Casey stepped toward me, a warm smile on his face as he offered me his hand. “I’m Casey, and this is my brother, Lux.”
“I gathered.” I smiled back and shook his hand. “I’m Kate Winters. I’m Henry’s new wife.”
“Henry?” said Casey. Behind him, James began to cough.
“Henry—Hades?” I said. “I’m Persephone’s replacement.”
Everyone stov hEveryonpped moving, as if someone had hit the pause button. James sat frozen, his eyes wide. Across from him, Lux stopped mid-chew. All three of them stared at me.
The fire crackled, and my face grew warm. It was the first time I’d called myself Henry’s wife out loud, and it was hard enough to say without this kind of reaction.
“Persephone’s gone?” said Casey after an unbearably long silence. I nodded.
“Sort of a long story, but she decided to give up her immortality. Henry was going to fade if he didn’t find someone new, so…” I shrugged. “The council tested me, and I’m his wife now.”
“And Queen of the Underworld?” he said slowly, as if he were trying to wrap his head around it.
James cleared his throat nervously. “She isn’t queen yet. They only just married a few days ago, and she’s on her six month sabbatical—”
The sound of pottery shattering cut him off, and Lux pulled his fist from his broken plate. Bits of rabbit meat had splattered across the cottage, a large chunk landing in James’s hair, but neither twin said a word about it.
“Let me get this straight.” Lux rose, his muscles rippling underneath his flawless skin. “Not only did you hunt us down, something you’d promised you’d never do, but you brought Hades’s wife with you as well?”
While his eyes were focused on me, his head was tilted toward James, who looked ready to fly through the roof if that was what it took to get away from Lux. “I swear to you, she has no idea,” said James. “She was born mortal, and she has nothing to do—”
“That’s not the point. You think Hades isn’t watching every move she makes? You think they don’t know we’re here by now?”
“Lux.” Casey’s quiet voice cut through the air. “Shut up. Kate, you won’t tell anyone you saw us, right?”
I blinked. “I—of course not. What the hell’s going on?”
“We’re leaving, that’s what’s going on,” thundered Lux. “Casey, get your shit and let’s get out of—”
“No.” For the second time in ten seconds, Casey effectively leashed his brother’s temper. “We’re not leaving until you’ve rested. You’re going to eat and regain your strength, and in the meantime, we’re all going to sit down and talk this out. James must have had a reason for bringing her here.”
“Yeah, so she can report back to Hades dearest,” said Lux.
James blanched. “Honest, she just happened to be with me. She won’t say anything, right, Kate?”
Whoever these men were, they had the power to turn James into a babbling boy, and that terrified me. I crossed my arms and said with more bravado than I felt, “I already said I wouldn’t. Will someone please tell me what’s going on before I really do have to go to Henry to figure it all out?”
Casey ge;%">Casstured to one of the mismatched chairs settled around the fire, and I perched on the edge. He took the one across from me, and without looking over his shoulder, he said to his brother, “Sit back down and finish.”
Lux grumbled, but did as he was told. He didn’t exactly look like he was weak and about to pass out, but I had a feeling he didn’t argue with his brother all too often.
I cleared my throat. “What’s going on? I swear I won’t talk to anyone about this.”
“I know you won’t.” Casey reached across the space between us and set his hand on mine. “Really. If James trusts you, so do we, despite what my brother wants you to believe. We’re Castor and Pollux. The Gemini twins.”
“The—what? You mean like the zodiac sign?” I glanced at James again, but his head was bowed, and he shoveled food into his mouth so quickly that it was a miracle he didn’t choke on it.
“Yes, something like that,” said Casey. I frowned, and the myth Irene had briefly covered during my time at Eden Manor surfaced from its hiding spot in the back of my mind.
Twin brothers, one mortal, one immortal—and when the mortal one died, the immortal one begged Zeus to allow him to share his immortality with his brother. “Didn’t Zeus turn you into stars?” I said stupidly.
At the table, Lux snorted, but Casey ignored him. “That’s one version of the myth, yes, but oral stories change over time when they are not drawn from a written source. As mortals told our story, they warped it into something more than it was—something magical, with a happy ending. Something they could draw a lesson from. As I’m sure you’ve discovered by now, there are several different versions of most of the prominent myths, and many of them do not even come close to the truth.”
I nodded. That had become painfully clear when Henry had explained to me exactly what had happened between him and his first wife, Persephone. The myths had detailed how he’d kidnapped her and forced her to be his wife; he’d insisted it was an arranged marriage that had failed, and Persephone had been his willing bride. The rest of the council of Olympians had confirmed his side of the story.
“So what really happened?” I said. “Why are you so afraid of Henry?”
Lux scoffed. “We’re not afraid of him.”
“Sure seems that way to me,” I said, and Casey managed a small smile.
“Forgive Lux. He does not admit weakness easily. The beginning of the story is true, for the most part. We have different fathers, but obviously we are twins.”
It was my turn to smile. “Obviously.” They were identical down to their slightly crooked bottom teeth.
“Whether I was made in Lux’s image or Lux in mine, we don’t know. We were born to the same mother at the same time, and we were raised as my father’s sons. He was a king, and we had a good life with our sisters.”
“One of which you may know as Helen of Troy,” said James from the table, and Lux’s expression darkened. Instead of grumbling even more, he shoved a large piece of rabbit into his mouth and took his822and too time chewing.
“Oh.” Kind of hard not to know about her. “Right, so—happy childhood with a gorgeous sister who inspired a war. Got it.”
“A war we never saw, as I died shortly before the start of it.” Casey folded his hands together and stared into the crackling fire. It was the first time during our conversation that he hadn’t met my eyes. “After my death, Lux went to his father—”
“He’s not my father,” said Lux through a mouthful of rabbit.
“Lux went to Zeus and begged that he allow us to stay together. Zeus relented, and he told my brother that we would alternate days between the Underworld and Olympus.”
“Lying bastard.” Lux again, though at least this time he’d swallowed.
“He did not lie,” corrected Casey. “Lux simply understood it one way while Zeus meant it another.”
James stood, his meal only half-eaten, and he moved to sit with us. “It wasn’t a misunderstanding. Zeus knew what he was doing.”
“Told you,” said Lux, and Casey sighed.
“Yes, well, regardless. My brother understood it to mean we would spend one day in the Underworld, one day in Olympus—together. Zeus, however, meant that we would spend it apart, sharing Lux’s rightful time in Olympus and mine in the Underworld.”
My hands tightened into fists. No one had to tell me how much the council enjoyed trickery. The past six months of my life had been one big deception on their part, though I didn’t hold a grudge. It’d all turned out perfectly all right for me—better than all right, even. But nothing about what Zeus had put Casey and Lux through was even remotely okay. “I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re together now though, right?”
Lux pushed his empty plate away. “Not because of anything Zeus did. Once I realized what was happening, I broke my brother out of the Underworld, and we’ve been on the run from the council ever since.”
“There’s a bounty on our heads,” said Casey. “Quite generous, really.”
“Thankfully the council’s mostly too busy to look for us, and the minor gods can’t tell their arses from their armpits.” Lux flopped down beside his brother. “But your dear husband is even more interested in finding us than Zeus is. Funny how much escaping from the Underworld can piss someone off.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What part of ‘I won’t say anything’ don’t you understand?”
“Forgive me if I’m skeptical. You are newlyweds, after all.”
Casey set his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Let it go. Kate, we don’t have many friends among the members of the council. They don’t take kindly to having the tables turned on them. Hermes—James, he’s the only one who’s shown us any kindness at all.”
“Well, you can count me as a friend, too,” I said. “I’m not going to let their egos get in the way of me helping you.Rhe ing you21;
“See?” Casey nudged his brother. “She’s not so bad.”
Lux scoffed, his dark eyes fixed on me. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
His lack of trust didn’t exactly inspire my confidence in him either, but at least he had a legitimate reason for being suspicious. I stared back, refusing to look away, and the seconds ticked by. Lux smirked.
I wrinkled my nose and gave him a look, which he returned mockingly. Casey grinned and patted his brother on the knee. Now that they were beside each other, they were in constant physical contact, as if reassuring themselves that the other was still there. I didn’t blame them.