I was so gonna get my ass chewed for this.
And not in the good way.
I snapped my fingers, and my quiver of arrows disappeared into the cosmic nothingness where magical things went when demigods snapped their fingers. No clue where that nothingness was, and in my hundreds of years of existence, I’d never bothered to find out.
However, right then, such mysteries were the furthest thing from my mind because I had just nailed another cupid’s mark. Now the glittering trail of purple dust from my lust arrow was like the laser sight of a sharpshooter’s rifle, pinpointing my exact location.
I was so fucked.
Again, not in the good way.
The explosion of both purple and red dust in the street below meant the aftershock of my lust arrow striking the human first had deflected a love arrow. I was pretty sure the owner of said arrow would be coming to bitch me out any second. Cupids could be such whiny little cunts when they wanted to be.
Believe me, I would know.
I’m a cupid.
The name’s Philomenus, but I answer to Lio.
Just one of Eros’s many, many offspring, I’m employed for eternity by the Inter-Dimensional Association of Cupids, or the IDAC. Contrary to what paintings and sculptures depicted, cupids are not fat, naked baby boys in diapers. While on the small side, we look just like regular folks. No wings either. Involved in every aspect of love, from puppy love and first kisses to weddings, the IDAC is militantly organized. They take their task of giving the humans love very seriously—like a supernatural FBI, complete with orders, rules, and procedures.
And I just broke about a hundred of each.
Before I could conjure a location to send myself, a pop sounded behind me.
Huge steellike hands grabbed the collar of my leather jacket and yanked me around.
“What the hell, Lio?”
Bodily shoved against the ledge of the rooftop, I let out a tiny yelp of surprise when the magic inside my body surged white-hot, almost as if it recognized something…. WTF?
That had never happened before.
Then again, I’d never been busted shooting closeted gay men with Class 4G lust arrows either.
Righting myself, I flipped unruly blond curls out of my eyes and faced my attacker, arms out in a show of surrender. “Hey, ease up, pal.”
“What the hell?” that menacing voice growled again.
Thanks to all the gossipy cupids in the IDAC, I recognized the god immediately, though I’d never seen him before.
Éhecatl, the Aztec god of the winds.
All I knew about him—beside rumor or speculation—was that he preferred to be called Ethan in this century, and he was the powerful younger brother to one of the big, primordial Aztec deities, Quetzalcóatl. Long ago, Ethan fell in love with a human woman named Mayahuel, and he gave his people the ability to love so she would return his passion, much the way Eros had lit the flame of love with his bow and arrow on the other side of the world. Ethan’s gift of love makes him a love god, too, but his party-boy cousin, Xochipilli, holds the official title of the Aztec god of love. I have no clue why he got back into the love business and joined the IDAC a century ago. Especially since Mayahuel ended up marrying the flamingly gay Xochipilli. Why a wind god would want to slum it with us cupids when he’d have more bragging rights within an uppity weather god association was beyond me.
But then again, I have a hard enough time keeping track of all the drama in my own pantheon, I wasn’t gonna bother to try to figure out Ethan’s.
Few had ever seen the notorious loner, let alone spoken to him. Cupids heard about Ethan from someone who knew someone else who claimed to have met him. Decked out in all black leather, except for the skintight mesh shirt with a green-and-red feather design, he looked as ferocious as advertised.
Ancient warrior gone Goth.
If he pulled a tire iron on me at that exact moment, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
I tried to play it cool. “Hi, Ethan.”
“Do not ‘Hi, Ethan’ me!” His eyes literally flashed gold. “What were you thinking, interfering with my mark?”
Magical power radiated off him, and for some crazy reason, my own snapped in response. Like strobe lights in a nightclub, it pulsed wildly inside my chest. Weirdly familiar, yet not.
Probably just a glitch.
Being a mere demigod with unpredictable powers on a good day, there was no way I could escape a full-fledged love god.
My only option was to sweet-talk my way out of this.
I ran my fingers through my hair, letting the curls spring back into place and doing my best to come across as innocent and adorable. “Oh, was that arrow yours? I didn’t know.”
“Do not play cute, Lio. Not after that stunt you just pulled!” The giant god stepped out of the shadows, and my chest tightened when the aura of the city below illuminated his face.
A gold bar pierced each sharp eyebrow, and wooden dowels, intricately carved with some kind of birdlike symbol, gauged his ears. His ebony hair had been cropped close on the sides, longer on top and in the back—a fauxhawk, I think they called it. His skin, coffee with just a dash of cream. Pure gold twinkled in the depths of his pale-gray eyes, and the heavy fringe of black lashes sweeping them gave the appearance he wore eyeliner—wait! Yup, he actually did have on guyliner.
His ferocity and power made my insides tremble. “I didn’t know he was your mark.”
How should I know the human had been scheduled to be shot with a love arrow? The twenty-year-old man set my gaydar readings off the charts, but he’d arrived at the bar with a woman. Lying little bastard. I saw him eye fucking the Asian dude in the corner when he thought his girlfriend wasn’t looking. So I gave him a little nudge in the right direction. Shook things up a bit. But if I’d known he’d been scheduled for a hit from the uptight straight boys, I never would’ve dared.
My extracurricular activities weren’t exactly on the up-and-up.
“Look,” I began, trying to remain light so he didn’t shoot me with a lightning bolt or something equally unpleasant. “It was an accident. I was aiming for someone else and missed.”
He crossed his arms, and the edge of a tattoo peeked out from his shirt collar. “Philomenus does not miss. Ever.”
That surprised me. Sure, I had been in the IDAC a lot longer than Ethan had, but we played for different teams, in more ways than one. Yet he knew not only my name but of my prowess with a bow. “My reputation precedes me.”
He scoffed. “You know it does.”
An inexplicable surge of pride washed over me, and I tossed him an arrogant shrug. “It’s true. I don’t miss. You should sample some of my other talents.”
“This is not a joke, Lio.” Taking a warning step closer, he pointed a long finger in my face. His nails were painted black, not my usual cup of tea, but it looked good on him. “Raymond Jerome and Samantha Portman were scheduled to be hit with Class 1S love arrows tonight.”
My brows shot up. Those were true love arrows, and only the highest-ranking were authorized to shoot them. It should’ve come as no surprise the bureaucratic red tape had been shortened to move a big god up in the ranks. The head cupids were always kissing their asses, forgetting who had founded the organization, and that gods from other pantheons had come to us for sanctuary, not the other way around. But that’s the nature of my species. Needy little bitches always looking for approval.
Well, except me. I didn’t need anybody.
“I didn’t know you were promoted,” I said. “Congrats.”
“And now I know why you were demoted.”
At one time I’d had the privilege to use love arrows, and even the supposedly unbreakable true love ones. But at the end of each shift, the IDAC expected us to catalog our arrows and report every discharge. Unable to explain why my count kept coming up short Class 4G lusts, I was forced to say bye-bye to all my love arrows. My demotion wasn’t supposed to be common knowledge, but cupids—and apparently Aztec gods—gossiped like old ladies in a beauty parlor.
So naturally, everyone knew.
“You’ve been looking into my files?” I put my hand to my chest in an affected swoon. “Why, Ethan! I never knew you cared.”
“Stop trying to be cute.”
All cupids were beautiful, and no exception had been made for me. I twirled a finger around one of my curls. “Aww, you think I’m cute?”
“Stop changing the subject. We must fix this.” Ethan chewed irritably on the taunting gold hoop in his lower lip and began to pace. Despite the situation, his intimidating size and powerful presence made me kinda warm in my no-no places. Of course, those skintight leather pants with the nice package up front didn’t hurt either.
He stopped his pacing to glare at me. “What were you thinking? Is this your idea of fun?”
Actually it was more like a mission. Not that I could tell Ethan. He would never understand the bullshit guys like me had to put up with, because he was on the “winning” side. The IDAC had two divisions, Gay and Straight. I played on the more fun team—the Gay Division, or GD for short, but unfortunately, SD marks always took precedence.
Despite my bravado, I really didn’t want to get into trouble, so I tried to discern how much damage control was needed. “Did you shoot the girl?”
He gave me an exasperated sigh. “Not yet.”
“No harm, no foul, then. You can get them tomorrow when my arrow wears off.” Lust arrows released magic the moment they struck and could be used in any increment—how do you think orgies happen? I’d used only one lust arrow for Raymond because the Asian guy didn’t need any magical encouragement to take a cute guy home with him. Fortunately for me, love arrow magic remained inert until all targets were shot. Otherwise, if you had a slow-aiming cupid, or a target moved, the shot person could fall in love with anyone.
Talk about a logistics nightmare.
Ethan’s head shook in disbelief. “Is this a joke to you, messing with a man’s life?”
Pissed, I rose to my full five-six height—in cowboy boots, anyway—and craned my neck to look him in the eye. “No, it’s not a joke. How is giving him a night of great sex messing with his life? He can still fall in love with Sally-what’s-her-face tomorrow. Just let the guy sample the other side before he goes straight.”
“You have no right to mess with people’s lives! No right at all!”
“C’mon, Ethan. It’s no big deal—”
“No big deal? You just stopped true love!”
I laughed. “There’s no such thing as true love.”
He looked like I’d just slapped him. “How can you say that? You’re a cupid.”
“C’mon, we both know this is all a bunch of bullshit.”
Ethan straightened his shoulders. “I believe in love.”
“Well, good luck with that. Do you know how many times I’ve shot someone with a true love arrow and then society, some trickster or another god, or the person’s own selfishness ruins it? Every day people turn their backs on love. Ever pay attention to what happens after you shoot someone? The lies they tell each other once our magic wears off? The secrets they keep from the people they supposedly love? The way they hurt each other?”
“Just because people abuse the love we give them does not make it any less real, Lio. You must see that.”
“Gimme a break.” I crossed my arms and scoffed. After the stories I’d heard about his past love life, I was a little surprised that he would still be drinking the Kool-Aid the IDAC served.
Ethan responded to my vehemence with logic. “If I was to give you a gift, let us say a car, and you abused it, took it for granted, beat on it, and destroyed it, how does your abuse make that car any less of a car? Yes, ultimately you can destroy it with your selfishness, but that never changed what it was.”
“Love is not like a car.”
He scowled. “It was an illustration. Not meant to be literal, and you are just saying that to be contrary.”
Laughter burst from me at hearing the word “contrary” come out of this rough, pierced-up man. It was a sarcastic, mirthless laugh.
“No one is perfect, Lio. How can you expect relationships to be perfect?”
“It doesn’t take a perfect person not to be a liar!” I shouted, my entire being vibrating with the pain of buried but unforgotten hurts.
Ethan stared at me with his gray eyes, the gold shimmering faintly in the night. “Lio, I know what he did to you, but—”
“No!” I blurted out, shocked by his audacity to mention my past humiliations. “You don’t have the right to talk about him. So just save it.”
My magic rolled tortuously within me, crackling from irritation as he surveyed me with a sympathy I wasn’t asking for. I’d wasted the first half of my life buying into the warm-and-fuzzy Ethan was trying to sell. I had desperately sought love, always feeling as if Prince Charming was out there, waiting to sweep me off my feet. I thought I’d found the fairy tale once, but just like trying to put together a puzzle, if one cut the pieces and forced them to fit, in the end the picture didn’t turn out very pretty.
Just like my life.
Every single cupid remembered how terrible that break-up had been, how destroyed it had left me. I had no interest in going on a trip down memory lane with Ethan. So I crossed my arms and glared, daring him to say one more word yet hoping he was kind enough not to.
“I am not here to hurt you or to argue with you,” he went on after a deliberate pause. “But you interrupted my mark, and now true love could be lost for that poor unsuspecting couple. You know how much work goes into a true love mark. What if we missed the only window for them?”
Grateful to get back on topic, I raised my hands in appeasement. “Calm down. I didn’t shoot him with a love arrow. You already know I don’t have any. It was just a lust arrow.”
“A gay lust arrow.”
“If he’s straight, then my arrow won’t have any effect on him, now, will it?”
As one, we turned and looked toward the street. I didn’t have a clue where the girl had gone, but the two men were having a smoke, whispering far more intimately than average blokes on a cig break.
“Interesting.” I rose up on the balls of my feet, barely able to contain the gloat.
He narrowed his gaze suspiciously. “You knew that arrow would affect my target. How?”
Those hypnotic gray eyes lit up with understanding. “You have one, don’t you?”
Squirming, I said nothing. No need to bury myself any deeper.
Without warning, Ethan spun me around and bent me over the ledge, booting my feet apart. A shot of heat went up my back then straight to my groin when he started frisking me. Though he had more power than me in spades, my magic didn’t surge with the instinct to protect me. Instead, an aura of tenderness and desire inundated me, warming me physically.
“If you wanted to sample the goods, all you had to do was ask,” I said slyly, waving my ass in offering.
He growled and the patting got a little more aggressive. Ethan hailed from a warrior culture—a violent, blood-drinking, human-sacrificing culture—and the rumors about him left one imagining if you pissed him off, he might kill you slowly just for fun. But I knew, deep in my guts, there was not an ounce of cruelty in this god. Though, for a second, I did think he might paddle my ass.
No such luck, however.
I shifted so my nuts brushed those large, questing hands as they quickly slid up my inner thigh. Unfortunately, they didn’t linger. He ran the flats of his palms smoothly up my legs to my hips, the tips of his fingers brushing over a ticklish spot and making me wriggle. Then they slid forward and into the front pockets of my jeans.
“A little lower and to the left, please.” If he cared to notice, I already sported a decent semi.
Jeesh, get a grip, Lio! You’re about to be busted, and all you can think about is sex!
With a grunt, Ethan pushed me roughly away when he found what I had in my pocket.
Regaining my footing, I turned to meet his eyes with a cocky grin. I would be damned if I cowered.
“A gaydar?” he said in shock, holding up a small black object. To the casual observer, it looked like a touch-screen cell phone. But to a trained cupid, the device was easily recognizable.
And highly illegal.