Every Wednesday from now until release date, I’ll be posting an exclusive scene from Aphrodite! Like what you read? Preorder today!
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“Is he traveling with you?” Miguel wedged Adonis’s suitcase between the door and the frame. He looked ready to throw Adonis out of the room if I said no.
“You can go,” I told Miguel, infusing enough charm behind the words to make sure he did as I asked.
“What—” Adonis asked when the door closed behind Miguel. “How—Why are you here?”
Oh, gods. I recovered from my shock enough to realize what Adonis being here meant. “You need to leave.” I rushed down the stairs, nearly tripping in my haste to reach him before the cruise left shore. “Adonis you need to go. It’s not—”
“This is my room,” he argued, snapping out of his daze enough to grow defensive. “Bought and paid for. I don’t know what you’re—”
“—safe. You can’t be on this ship.” I reached for his bag as I grabbed his arm, propelling him toward the door. That I’d charmed my way into his room seemed too great a coincidence to process right now. For now, I just thanked the Primordials that I’d discovered him on board before it was too late. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to the dock.”
“What do you mean, it’s not safe? He wrenched his arm free and grabbed his bag from me. “What is going on?”
“Demigods are going missing.” I filled him in as best I could, stealing anxious glances toward the balcony to make sure the ship hadn’t yet set sail. “It’s not safe for you to be here.”
Adonis swore, his eyes going to the chandelier as he digested what I told him. “I can’t just leave,” he said finally. “I’m here for work. It’s this big event. We’ve got shoots scheduled at each of the ports and—”
“Any other demigods?” Demigods, particularly those in possession of charm, gravitated to fields like modeling, performing, or politics. What better way to get multiple demigods in one place than by targeting their most probable career paths? I made a mental note to check if the other cruises were geared toward any demigod-heavy fields.
“What?” Adonis shook his head. “None from my agency. Across the whole convention, maybe three or four.” He swore again. “I’ve got to warn them.”
Having three or four demigods on one ship was far too unlikely to be written off as coincidence. They were probably all targets. But if he told them, if they behaved differently because of what they knew, I might lose my chance to figure out who or what was taking them. “Let me handle that. In the meantime,” I pushed him toward the door, “why don’t we find your boss, and I don’t know, maybe charm him into thinking you stayed on board the whole time? Do you want a raise? I think I can work in a raise. Let’s just—”
He didn’t budge. “What’s your plan?”
“Right now? To get you off this boat.” I clenched my jaw, wishing Adonis were a normal demigod I could just charm into leaving. But Adonis was special. Thanks to centuries of inbreeding, Adonis was not only immune to anyone else’s charm, he seemed to have control over his own. The inbreeding bit isn’t as gross as it sounds. Before Zeus died, he’d experimented with turning demigods to a new kind of god. Adonis’s parents were both Zeus’s offspring. As were their parents before that, and their parents before that. Making Zeus Adonis’s grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great grandfather, and so on, on both sides.
Okay, maybe that is as gross as it sounds, but gods don’t have the same incest taboo as humans. We don’t pass on genetic material, just power.
Adonis leaned against the door. “I spent enough time with you last year to know that you’re not infallible, Aphrodite. None of you gods are, no matter what you think.” He pushed away from the door. “Demigods are going missing; I’m a demigod. So are my little sisters—”
“You have sisters?”
Adonis gave me a look that warned me that topic was closed. “What are you planning to do here? You’re not wearing a glamour; why? Anyone who knows anything is going to look at you and see goddess. Is that part of your plan? Is the Pantheon using you as a distraction? Someone that random power signatures can be attributed to while Persephone or one of the gods works in the background?”
“How about I explain on the way.” I pulled open the door, but Adonis shut it, keeping his arm pushed against it for good measure. With a frustrated sigh, I whirled on him, talking fast so he’d leave already. “I can’t hide that there’s a god on board, even with a glamour, because the power that it takes to maintain a glamour is something we can sense. Almost no one has heard of me. I figure it’s better to let whomever or whatever is behind this notice me so they can write me off. Let them assume that I’m not one of the very few gods who could withstand the level of charm it takes to pull off what they’re doing.”
Adonis fell silent while he considered that, taking an infuriatingly long time to do so. “Okay, but what if instead of blending in, you used a glamour to look like us? Demigods can’t normally control their powers, so any stray power could be explained away if you looked like one of us.” The more he talked, the more excited he seemed to get about his idea. “There’s this demigoddess I know—Elise. She was supposed to come to the convention, but she landed this skincare gig at the last minute. We could say it fell through. You could look like her and get taken with us. You’ll get to learn everything that’s going on and if you need to, you can teleport back to the rest of the gods to bring in the cavalry.”
I rubbed my temples, trying to think of the fastest way off the ship. We’d have to go to the main deck, right? “That’s . . . an elaborate plan.”
“Thanks. So . . . ?”
I tugged at the door again to no avail. “I could look like her, but I couldn’t claim to be her. I can’t lie, remember? So what if someone asks her a question that I can’t answer? Don’t you think I’d actually draw more attention to myself if I tried and failed to impersonate a demigod?”
“But you’ve lost the element of surprise,” he protested. “So whatever is behind this is going to see you coming. What about the demigods that have already gone missing? By being so obvious, you might actually be putting them in danger. And then there are the demigods still on board. Did you even consider them?”
There wasn’t a good way to tell him this wasn’t a rescue mission. I wasn’t supposed to stop the demigods from going missing. Just observe, report, and let the realm rulers figure out what they wanted to do with the information.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to say anything. Adonis studied me for a long moment, his mouth dropping open as he figured out what I wouldn’t say. “We’re expendable to you, aren’t we? You don’t actually care that we’re going missing. You just want to make sure whatever happens to us isn’t a threat to you.”
“Adonis . . .” I dropped my eyes, unwilling to meet his gaze.
“And you wonder why they all hate you.” His gold eyes locked to mine, smoldering with rage. “The few mortals who even know gods exist.”
No, we all knew. We’d never had to wonder. The boat bobbed on the waves as we left the port. I focused on the movement, the swaying chandelier, the subtle sound of the ocean beyond the glass walls, uncomfortable with the turn this conversation had taken.
Adonis clenched his fists. “You’re callous, and selfish, and—”
Okay, enough. Calming ocean crap could only drown out so many insults. “You do realize you’re not speaking to a collective here, right? Just me.”
“What, like you’re any different?” Adonis shook his head in disgust. “You’ve known for over a year Zeus wasn’t the one causing demigods to go missing. Why didn’t you warn me?”
“They aren’t dead.” Hades would have seen them in the Underworld.
“So what?” Adonis crossed his arms, then dropped them as if he’d realized he’d mirrored my pose. “You guys assumed ‘not dead’ equaled fine?”
“Zeus said he didn’t touch the demigods, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t behind them going missing. And the disappearances seemed to stop when he died. If I’d known you were still in danger, Adonis, I would have warned you.”
“Of course.” I’d throw myself into the hottest pits of Tartarus before I let Adonis get hurt. He’d trusted me. Even knowing Zeus could have made me kill him with one word, he’d put his faith in me. That meant more to me than he’d ever know. I grabbed his hands. “I’m warning you now, aren’t I? You’re my friend. You’re not expen—”
“We are not friends!” Adonis exploded.
My breath caught. Adonis’s faith in me had kept me going through one of the worst moments of my life. Adonis’s strength held me together when giving in felt like the only option. He hadn’t just stopped me from doing something I’d spend the rest of my life regretting, he saved my life. I wouldn’t still exist if it wasn’t for him. But now, he was looking at me as if he’d rather I didn’t.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” His golden eyes raked over my face, full of anger and disgust. “What is it you’re expecting here, Aphrodite? Gratitude? You think you can just tell me my entire species is being rounded up, never to be heard from again, and expect me to leave? To fall over my feet, grateful you deigned to warn me? Hell, no. I’m not going anywhere.” He snatched his bag and headed toward the stairs. “If anyone should leave, it should be you. I can’t be charmed into forgetting anything. Do your god thing and put a trace on me. Assuming ‘not dead’ doesn’t equal catatonic, I’ll fill you in on all the details when you find me.”
Still stunned, I shook my head. “I’m not using you as bait.”
“I’m a hell of a lot more motivated to get to the bottom of this than you,” he argued. “Go do whatever it is that you do. I’ll make sure my people stay safe.”
“I can’t track you.” There were gods that could trace power signatures from across the globe, but I wasn’t one of them. “But if you insist on staying . . .”
“Then I guess I’ll be needing a new room.” I turned to go get my bags, unwilling to let him see how much his words had hurt.
“There are no other rooms.” Adonis sounded tired. “They offered me this upgrade because mine was double-booked. Then they tried to kick me off the boat entirely because of you.”
What, was he expecting an apology? I forced a smile to my face. “Somehow, I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding a place to sleep.”
“Because you’re going to charm someone out of their suite? No.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “And who exactly is going to stop me?”