Fates Deliver A Prince by Andrew Grey
THEY were as old as time, three ageless sisters of neither beauty nor ugliness; they just were. Created by the gods at the beginning of the world, they existed at the center of the Earth, far away from the life-forms they controlled. These three women, these sisters, were the Fates. They existed in their own portion of the world, controlling it and yet completely separate from it. In their cave, for lack of a better way to describe it, for they knew neither day nor night, these sisters did their work, never tiring and always vigilant.
It was one sister’s job to call the names, one watched the wheels and called the reading, and the final recorded the fate in the book of time.
“Sisters,” the oldest one said. She was older only because she had been created a millisecond before the others. “It’s time to switch.” The others nodded, and without missing a beat, they shifted position with grace and speed, as they’d done once a century ever since the first thinking being appeared on the planet.
They called each other “sister,” their actual names long unused. To say them they would subject themselves to the randomness of the wheels they alone controlled. Those very wheels lined the walls of their cave, floor to ceiling, spinning constantly unless a name was called.
“Urnst Hunblotter!” the middle sister called in a level voice.
Then, and only then, would the wheels stop just long enough to be read before whirling again. Each wheel had thousands of possibilities, and not every wheel stopped for every name. Some were lucky and the wheel of disease continued spinning; others weren’t. Sometimes the wheel of wisdom hit the jackpot, and other times it never slowed. There were times when the longevity wheel read days, and sometimes decades. And it was the sisters’ job to keep the wheels running, the fortunes spinning, and record the fate of each for the gods, because once a fate was recorded, it was written for all time.
“Mario Vitelli.” The name sounded in the cave, and the wheels stopped for a split second before starting again. “Do you ever tire of this, sister?” she asked before calling another name.
“No, sister,” the eldest answered before reading and calling what the wheels had said so the youngest could write it down. “This is our fate, and you know what happens when you rail against us.”
The others nodded, and another name was called. They very rarely spoke of anything other than the wheels. Some might say they were cursed, others that they were blessed, but to them, they just were.
“Cheyenne Dobson.” The name sounded through the cave, and all three sisters stared at the wheels, unmoving. Every once in a while the wheels spun something the sisters had never seen before, and they would stop and stare before recording the fate, which would start the wheels spinning once again. This happened rarely, but every so often something or someone captured their attention. That attention could be for good or bad, the life long or short, but it always guaranteed one thing: a very interesting ride.
CHEYENNE sat in his room with the door closed and tried his best to ignore the persistent itch on his arm. Over the years he’d gotten quite used to it, and if he concentrated and kept busy, he could wait it out, usually. He hadn’t wanted to come along with his parents on this trip, but when his father, who also happened to be his alpha, asked him to do something, it might be phrased as a question, but in actuality it was an order. So here he was, staying with his family in a baroque nightmare of a house outside Munich, in Bavaria. After wandering over to the window, Cheyenne gazed at Danube River Valley and the mountains beyond. The country was beautiful, but the mountains weren’t those of home. He hadn’t been gone all that long, but he already missed his Rocky Mountains and the pack lands where he and his wolf could run.
Cheyenne sighed as he moved away from the window and settled on the side of his bed, looking around the huge bedroom. Everything in this place was massive, from the entrance hall and living room to his bedroom. He swore his parents’ room was large enough to play basketball in.
He heard a soft knock on the door and realized that he’d been rubbing his arm. He stopped his hands and forced his arms back to his sides. “Come in,” he said, his eyes nearly watering with the need to scratch everywhere. Sometimes the urge was so overpowering he could hardly stand it. The door opened, and Cheyenne saw his father enter.
“Your mother and I are attending a diplomatic reception this evening, and I’d like you and your brothers to attend as well,” his father said as he strode over to where Cheyenne was sitting. He was a huge man, nearly six and a half feet tall, and strong both physically and in personality—every inch the alpha, and he wore it well. Cheyenne’s brothers took after their father in almost every way, which had always made Cheyenne feel like a bit of an outcast.
“What is it, Chay?” his father asked as his expression softened.
“Nothing,” he lied as tears threatened to come to his eyes. Then, when he couldn’t take it any longer, he lightly rubbed his side. The relief was almost palpable as the itching finally subsided. “I’d really prefer not to go.” He knew he’d do something to embarrass his family; that was the one thing he seemed to be good at. “I’ll stay here and read.”
His father’s expression softened further, and he sat on the bed next to him. “I’d really like you to come. You spend way too much time alone, and you need to meet people and make contacts and friends. You can’t do that if you stay here and never go out.” His father placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know you feel self-conscious, but you have no need to be. I have never been ashamed of you in my life.”
Chay lifted his gaze from his shoes and looked his father in the eye. “Please, Dad. Remember that reception we were at with the British ambassador last year? The itching got so bad, half the people on the room saw me scratching my back on the potted palm.”
To Chay’s surprise, his father smiled. “No one would have noticed if you hadn’t knocked the dang thing over and into the ambassador’s wife.” His father began to laugh, and Chay looked at the floor once again until he felt his father’s amazingly soft fingers under his chin. “For the record, that was the highlight of the most boring party I’ve attended in a decade. So, no, I’m not now nor have I ever been embarrassed by you. I know you have a skin condition that itches terribly all the time, and if there was something I could do to make it go away, I would. I’ve heard there’s a doctor over here who can possibly help you, and I’ve got people trying to contact him.”
Cheyenne shook his head. “No more witch doctors, Dad, please. The last one damned near turned me green.”
“He did not,” his father protested and then shook his head. “Look, if we can get in touch with him, will you at least consider it?”
Chay sighed. “Okay.” His father tried his best to do whatever he could for him. “I’ll consider it.”
His father patted his knee a couple of times and then stood up. “You don’t have to go to the party tonight. Your mother and I will understand, but I wish you’d reconsider.”
His father left the room, and Chay lay back on his bed, looking up at the elaborate plasterwork in the ceiling. His father had made a career in the foreign service and seemed to have a gift for mastering diplomacy. Chay always figured he was so good at it because of his quick mind backed by the power that lay just below the surface. His father’s wolf was the most powerful Chay or anyone in their family had ever encountered, and he exuded an authority that even humans seemed to feel. That sense of power helped back up his reasoning skills and extreme sense of honor.
Chay knew his father would be disappointed if he didn’t go, but he simply wasn’t sure how he could face all those people. He hated feeling that way, but it was better than hurting his father. Besides, something truly embarrassing or stupid always happened when he was around. This time he was determined to spare himself and his family the humiliation.
With that settled firmly in his mind, Chay settled back on the bed after grabbing the book he’d been reading. He sat on the thick bedding and began to read. The warm afternoon breeze wafted in through the open windows, and more than once Chay inhaled the scent of the river, the old trees, and the clean, fresh air.
When his father had purchased the estate, he had made sure they were well away from the scent of the city. Chay knew his father had done that largely for him, because the one thing that they’d found out over the years was that the fresher the air, the easier it was on Chay. That was one of the few things that made any difference. Breathing the sweetness of flowers from the garden on the air had a calming effect on Chay, and he soon closed his eyes, the book falling open on his chest.
Jump by Mary Calmes
I WAS in my office after eight, finally finishing up for the night, all fires put out for the day, when my assistant, Snow Drake, walked in and locked the door behind her.
“Oh God, what,” I groaned.
She made a cutting motion across her neck at the same moment she turned off the lights. I had to sit there with only the light of my laptop and wait. Someone knocked on the door. Whoever it was tried to peer through the frosted glass pane that stretched the length of the door on one side and then rapped on it.
“Who are we hiding from?” I whispered to Snow.
“Reece,” she whispered back.
I rolled my eyes, which she couldn’t see in the dark, and went back to finishing up the e-mail I had been working on before she came in.
Long minutes later, Snow turned the lights back on, but only after she peeked out the door to see if Reece was gone.
“You know,” I said as she dropped papers she carried with her into my inbox. “If you don’t want to see him again, maybe you should just tell him.”
“I did, but now he wants to talk,” she said, like there was nothing in the world as revolting as the idea of doing that. “I don’t want to talk to him. We fucked, case closed.”
“You’re such a romantic,” I said, standing up, still looking at my laptop screen.
“It was boring as hell,” she grunted, stepping in beside me, the scent of whatever perfume she’d put on that morning still clinging to her. “He was all ‘tell me it feels good, baby, tell me you want it.’” She made a gagging noise in the back of her throat before rolling her eyes. “God, what a tool.”
“You didn’t laugh in the middle of sex again, did you?”
“Uh, yeah, I did.” She made a face, nodding at the same time. “How could I not?”
I groaned. “That’s just mean.”
“Needy men give me hives.”
I stopped listening to her then, distracted by a text message on my phone. I was apparently late for drinks with friends, my friend Stuart reminding me that I had promised. Must have been a moment of weakness, because normally after a whole day of working and experiencing my visions, I just wanted to go home and be by myself in the quiet. Not that I was some solitary loner, but I needed my downtime to decompress more than most.
“That guy Lucas came by earlier to see you,” Snow mused on. “But you were swamped with meetings today, so I explained to him he had no chance of seeing you.”
I grunted, turning back to my laptop to finish up my last batch of e-mails. I had to forward closed contracts to the processing department so they could send out statements for final billing. New contracts went to records, my billable hours and expense reports to accounting, and a spreadsheet of clients I had met with and would not be taking on went to my boss, Director of Client Services Rosalie Chun. After four years of working together, she didn’t question me anymore. If I said I couldn’t help a certain person, she sent them a letter of rejection. And I felt bad, but the truth, for me, was not just a feeling. I knew.
If I took you on as a client, I could, and would, find your love for you. From computer matching to speed dating to long romantic weekend getaways, I would move you from interest to lust to love. They were a gift, my visions, and I was using it, I felt, for good. My boss was thrilled with me; I was her number one counselor, cupid, matchmaker… whatever anyone wanted to call me. The real title was relationship coordinator, and I was, without a doubt, the best one at Nostalgia.
At our company, the emphasis was on a sort of sweet yesteryear approach to a relationship. It was romance first, and then love. If you jumped the gun and slept with the person you were supposed to be simply seeing, you were dropped from the program, and you didn’t get your deposit back. It was why the first five dates were chaperoned; we really wanted people to feel the difference between dating and Nostalgia dating. Our competitors, other matchmaking services, made fun of us, but our Chicago-based company that had started five years ago was still going strong. We were always hiring new coordinators to keep up with the influx of clients, and just this month, we had added three more to our staff. Not that I would get to know the rookies, not at first. They all migrated toward Kyle Jennings, not me. They all wanted to learn from him, talk to him, hang out with him, and bask in the glow of his reflected beauty.
And I understood. I did. If I was new and I had the choice of sitting in the office with the short, thin, bald guy with rimless glasses and a bow tie who wore a fedora when he went out, or the tall, square-jawed, athletic, golden sun god, I would pick Kyle too. The man was all long, sinewy muscles and sleek, sun-kissed hair and skin, with a grin that could melt you through the floor. New clients always picked him. The new coordinators always wanted to shadow him. Everybody had to have him, and I understood why. If he looked and sounded like that, then he must have been the top producer at the company. He was perfect; it had to be him. Except… it wasn’t him. It was me.
And what was funny was that the people who got assigned to shadowing me, the ones who didn’t raise their hands quickly enough to get Kyle instead, those people usually ended up wanting to remain with me after the first day. Even if the model crooked his finger at them, even if Kyle offered to take them out with him as well, they politely but firmly turned him down. Being under my wing, it turned out, was good too.
While Kyle spent the first day talking about his favorite thing—himself—I talked about what our newest employees needed to know and what they could accomplish with us. I explained what they could make and where they could be in two years with the right contacts, loyalty, and dedication. In short, I told them how I could help make their dreams come true. They wanted to excel, they wanted to make money, and they wanted to gain experience, build their reputation and their client list. Everyone had seen the reality shows; they knew where the big money was. If you got enough of a buzz going, secured an influential customer base, became the go-to person for the rich and powerful—and you were discreet—the sky was the limit. Everyone dreamed of having their own show on a channel like Bravo, and it was obtainable if you cared and were willing to work hard. The right clientele was the key, and the first benchmark was success. You had to be able to point at a well-made match, and then several, and have people gush about you. I had an endless stream—from multimillionaires to CEOs to nice people who were just too damn busy to date.
The thing was, though, that looking at me, no one saw I was, in fact, the love god. They missed me because I was quiet and shy, and the bow tie was the kiss of death. No one ever took a second look at me unless they had to.
The fact that I was ignored didn’t bother me in the least. I preferred it that way. I had a small circle of friends, the few serious-minded people who wanted to learn from me and follow in my footsteps, and my really annoying assistant.
“… and you know whenever I see that guy Ted from asset management, he always asks about you. He wants to know if you’re still seeing Ben Coffman and makes me promise to tell him the second you guys break up.”
I came back into a conversation Snow was still carrying on even though I had checked out for awhile. The woman never stopped talking.
“Did you hear me?”
It was impossible not to hear her. “You know very well that Ben and I broke up months ago,” I reminded her, turning my head to look into her eyes. I was five nine to her five eight, so towering over her and glaring her into quiet submission had never been an option. “But that’s none of anyone else’s business but mine here, is it?”
She sucked in her breath, which she did whenever I suddenly stared at her. It was cute and so was she. “What?”
I chuckled. “Ted Crowley can kiss my ass.”
“I’m sure he’d love to,” she said cheerfully. “A lot of men would.”
It was nice that she thought so.
“What?” She was suddenly scowling.
As I stared at Snow and she gazed back at me, I wondered how an ex-stripper had come to be the one I depended on for everything.
“Why’re you looking at me like that?”
“I can’t look at you?” I asked.
“You can do whatever you want,” she assured me, trembling just a bit.
Snow Drake did not look like the kind of woman who would be working in an office; she looked as if she belonged in Hollywood, all fragile beauty and big Bambi eyes. Her skin reminded me of those Greek statues in museums—alabaster perfection—and her eyes were a warm chocolate brown with long, thick lashes. Short-cropped platinum blonde curls framed her face. She looked like a 1940s silver-screen siren come to life, complete with full, pouty lips and an hourglass figure. The woman stopped traffic.
She got offers constantly, legitimate photographers stopping her on the street, asking her to let them photograph her. They usually got scowls in return for their flattery because all she wanted to do was sit at her desk outside my office. I said often that her life’s ambition couldn’t be to remain my assistant forever. I wanted her to follow her dreams. She always came back with the same snarky retort: What did I know about her dreams? To her, security, safety, and routine were the most important things of all. Her loyalty to me was absolute because I gave her life order, and she, in turn, took care of me.
She had been working days as a walking courier and nights as a stripper when she had delivered a package to an office down the hall from mine. She saw me walk by and, for whatever reason, followed me. In my reception area were several people with clipboards, filling out applications, waiting to see me about an assistant position. In our interview, she informed me that I could put her in any position I wanted.
She waggled her eyebrows at me.
I explained that she couldn’t dress like a whore in my office.
She asked me what I wanted her to wear to bed.
“I’m gay,” I said.
“We’ll see,” she volleyed.
I rolled my eyes and she flashed me dimples. She then proceeded to tell me that if I hired her, she’d take me to a really good Mexican place.
She gently jabbed me in the side with her elbow.
“Why do you dye your hair white blonde?”
“Platinum blonde,” she corrected.
She tilted her head. “Why do you wear a bow tie?”
“I like it.”
She shrugged. “Same.”
The flirting was funny, but underneath there was a desperation that worried me. She was on the brink, staring down into the abyss. Stripping wasn’t enough, and she wasn’t getting by on her second job either. She needed one career, not three or four jobs. She did not want to exchange stripping for escorting, but the money she knew she could make was getting harder and harder to turn down. She slept around anyway; why not make some cash doing it? We had a frank conversation, and for whatever reason, she felt safe to dump it all on me.
Of course I had seen it, as I did everything, the moment she looked into my eyes. I saw what the transformation would look like on her. It had made me shiver.
She really liked that.
Of course, when I told her she was hired, she leaned out into the hall and informed all the others that the job was hers.
“Get up outta here, bitches; I’m the new decoration in the man’s office.”
God. When I had looked into her future, I had missed that her personality was so loud. She was an itty-bitty kitten with a huge attack-dog personality. The woman was impossible not to both love and want to throw out a window. Just the constant barrage of conversation was exhausting.
But I was the first person who had believed in her enough to take a chance with my time and money. Since my faith had never wavered and after two years, going on three, I was still in her life—the one and only constant she could point to—she guarded me and our relationship with fanatic devotion. I teased her often with the promise that even if a bus hit me, she would still have a job at Devlin Hammond. Everybody wanted her.
“Super,” she simpered. “I just want to work for you.”
I understood finally. I equaled home for her. It was fine with me.
“What did you ever even see in Ben?” she asked suddenly.
I had been dating Ben Coffman for a year before I got up the nerve to tell him my secret. And of course the moment the words were out, I saw him running out the door before he actually did it. Lesson learned. I had spoken to my mother that night, called her in Taos where she lived with my artist stepfather. They were both on the phone with me, and it was nice.
“Screw him,” my stepfather, Jeddah Prince, said.
“Jed, you’re supposed to be all Zen,” I teased him.
“Well, what the hell, Cass.” He was annoyed for me; I could hear it clear as day. “You finally decide to trust someone, and he turns out to not be worth the effort? I’m pissed!”
“Me too,” my mother chimed in. “But, honey, what did I tell you?”
“That my guy will be someone that my gift chooses,” I said, trying not to roll my eyes.
“Don’t placate me, Cassidy Jane,” she warned. “Your gift will pick someone, and he’ll know you’re special, know that you’re a prize and what your heart is worth. I would have never made it without you. You, your father, and now Jed are the blessings of my life. Wait for yours, angel, he’s coming.”
She always said the same thing.
“But in the meantime, put a lid on it.”
Jed thought that was funny. His laughter was warm over the phone.
It had always been my mother’s hard and fast rule. Never, ever, trust anyone with the truth about the gift.
Believed You Were Lucky by Amy Lane
Descendent of Thor
LEIF TORVAL woke up in the morning because his cat crapped so pungently in its cat box that Leif’s eyes watered as he took his first breath of 6:00 a.m. Anyone else would have said this was a shitty way to start the day, but Leif knew different. His alarm clock had died in the middle of the night, and if the cat hadn’t had the bowel movement of the apocalypse, Leif would have been late, and his boss would have yelled, and that would have been a shitty way to start the day.
Leif hated it when anyone yelled, so he thanked Loki the cat for taking a giant dump, cleaned the cat box, sprayed some air freshener, and hopped in the shower.
He’d been a happy, chubby, cheerful baby, and he was a happy, bubbly, cheerful adult—a life of luck might have made him that way naturally, but his life hadn’t been all lucky, so maybe most of it was just Leif.
His mother had been a beautiful, golden-haired, tall Norwegian woman who had—counter to all family tradition—died early in a car accident. Leif was supposed to be in the car, but his grandmother, Leni, had suddenly decreed that he needed to stay with her one more day and that Ingrid and her new boyfriend could come back for her son in the morning. When Leni got the news that Ingrid had died, her face had slammed shut like a granite vault, and she’d said, “I would have told her, I would, but that one would never believe.”
Leif had heard her say those words, and so he’d very carefully believed every word his grandmother had told him about the old gods. He wasn’t actually certain they existed, or if maybe they meant something else in this day and age, but he kept his mind and his heart open to things—and, of course, he had the string.
And now, as he stooped in the tiny shower cubicle in his apartment in San Francisco, he closed his eyes and saw the string.
The string was bright gold, and Leif had noticed it the morning after his mother had died. He woke up and closed his eyes, and there it was, snaking from one idea to the next, from one thing to do to the next, until there was his day, too, mapped out by a yellow piece of string.
Grandma, don’t go to that place for fish today. The string says to get bagels instead.
The next day, people would be sick from the fish, and Leif and his grandmother would be just fine, living on the bagels from the nearby bakery.
Hey, Leni—you having trouble paying the rent? Here, give me five dollars. I’ll be right back.
And sure enough, the string took him to a $25,000 lottery ticket in his first year of college. Leni paid her raised rent, and Leif got his first year paid off in one blow.
The string was not perfect, and it was not invincible. It told Leif not to leave one morning when his grandmother was tired, and Leif didn’t save her life that day, but he was able to be there as she passed away, and that was special. The string didn’t tell him not to fall in love with Tom Chen in his third year of college, which was unfortunate, because after a two-year relationship, Tom got married to a nice Chinese girl his mother approved of and Leif was left heartbroken and alone. The string didn’t tell him which classes to take in college, and when Leif took all the ones in literature and humanities, he was surprised to find himself with a humanities degree and no job skills whatsoever.
But that was okay, because the day after he’d walked the stage—alone, with no one in the audience to cheer him on—and taken his diploma in the humanities, he’d walked by a bicycle messenger service. He loved riding his bike in the city. The golden string stretched before him, told him when to go down Polk, when to avoid the Embarcadero, which streets would be clearest when he needed to run parallel to the wharf.
He took the job, and while he had to take another delivering flowers on the side, he didn’t mind. He had his tiny apartment (since Leni’s house was too much for him to pay rent on) and his bicycle and his city. If the string sometimes told him to turn one way, giving a little warm glow that said he’d find happiness that direction, and if Leif ignored it, well, maybe he didn’t want happiness. Maybe happiness got you alone after two years of rooming together in off-campus housing. Maybe happiness left after the one-night stand, and there was no emptier feeling in the world than patting that empty bed. Maybe happiness was just not in the cards for someone who was blessed with luck but not with love, and Leif knew enough about how hard life could be for people with neither that he didn’t hold a grudge against the string or the gods or anyone. He got to get on his bicycle and ride down streets with a thirty-degree gradient at Mach 6 with his shaggy red hair on fire, or give people flowers when they were sad, and go home and read Seamus Heaney. Leif may very well have been the luckiest man in San Francisco, and he liked it that way!
So Leif got out of the shower; dried off his hair (needed cutting, because it fell in ragged copper layers around his face, but there never seemed enough time); and put on his thick, warm biking shorts (not the old glossy spandex kind of the eighties, no—but still, just as sleek against his skin) and his long-sleeved wicking T-shirt under a leather jacket, his helmet (decorated in complicated Nordic knotwork using glow-in-the-dark duct tape), and his goggles—the special kind that adjusted to the sunlight. His bike took up half his living room behind the couch, and after making sure Loki was fed and his litter box was clean, Leif hefted his bike over his shoulder and ventured down the stairs.
He lived on the third floor in a walk-up apartment. Inconvenient, really, but there was a super, and even though the apartments were little tiny, they let him keep his cat, and when his toilet had blown up (or, actually, fountained shit all over his bathroom) a couple of months ago, there had been a repairman there immediately, as well as a service to clean up the bathroom and pay for the damage. Again, Leif thought—lucky! One of the guys who came to clean up the bathroom had stayed the night. Leif had given the buzzing gold thread in his head a stern glare, but it had sat innocently and directed him to at least deliver the guy flowers. Leif had, but the affair had still ended there.
He got to the ground floor and stepped out onto Olive Street, which was an alley, really, behind Geary, but it was Leif’s alley, and he loved it. There were murals done over one of the doorways—something Aztec and bold, with different lines and different gods than he was used to, but still. There would be a trickster there, like Loki, and a world tree, like Yggdrasil, and a beautiful man with a fearful temper and a wish to do good, like Thor. Having been raised on stories himself, Leif adored other people’s stories. It was what the other half of his living room—the half not taken over by the modified bicycle with the titanium alloy frame and the specialized concrete traction tires—was devote