Blood and Other Matter is LIVE!

Blood and Other Matter

Red Moon Rising

Derrick Hernandez and Tess D’Ovidio have been best friends forever. There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. But their childhood bond is put to the test when Tess shows up on Derrick’s porch covered in blood…

Tess has no memory of what happened. She’d gone to a bush party with one of the football players. She remembers the bonfire…and then, nothing. Working backward, Tess and Derrick learn that she and seven other players were the only ones to make it back from the party alive.

During the next few weeks, each of the survivors is plagued with nightmares that reveal fragments of memories from the horrific night. But when the young men start dying under mysterious circumstances, Derrick can’t figure out if Tess is next—or if she’s somehow responsible. All he knows is that he has to save his best friend—or die trying…

Blood and Other Matter is live now. Order it Today!, and check out a free sample here.

 

 

 

Blood and Other Matter is Available for Pre-Order!

Blood and Other Matter

Red Moon Rising

Derrick Hernandez and Tess D’Ovidio have been best friends forever. There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. But their childhood bond is put to the test when Tess shows up on Derrick’s porch covered in blood…

Tess has no memory of what happened. She’d gone to a bush party with one of the football players. She remembers the bonfire…and then, nothing. Working backward, Tess and Derrick learn that she and seven other players were the only ones to make it back from the party alive.

During the next few weeks, each of the survivors is plagued with nightmares that reveal fragments of memories from the horrific night. But when the young men start dying under mysterious circumstances, Derrick can’t figure out if Tess is next—or if she’s somehow responsible. All he knows is that he has to save his best friend—or die trying…

Blood and Other Matter releases on April 17th. Pre-Order today, and check out a free sample here.

 

 

 

Release Day for Venus Rising!

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It’s release day for Venus Rising, and now I can share my super secret news! Persephone is returning as a POV character! She won’t have as many chapters as Aphrodite (it is her story), but you’ll get to see her plenty in the thrilling conclusion of Aphrodite’s trilogy. Enjoy this sample of a Persephone POV chapter below  (if you haven’t seen the chapters leading up to this, head on over to my wattpad page to check them out) and then go get your copy of Venus Rising!

Not caught up on Aphrodite’s trilogy? No problem! Aphrodite is on sale for .99 cents! That means you can get the whole trilogy for eight dollars. 

Aphrodite, sale, Daughters of Zeus, Kaitlin Bevis, Greek mythology retelling, Ares, Adonis

You can also enter to win this awesome tote bag from my publisher.

To enter, please click this link: http://bit.ly/2rpu0bP and sign up for the Venus Rising Giveaway. The winner will be chosen 6/12/17. After the giveaway, new signups will be added to the official Kaitlin Bevis mailing list. If you have any questions, please email us at nikiflowers@bellebooks.com!
Good luck, and enjoy!

Chapter IV

Persephone

IT HURT COMING back to my old home in Athens, Georgia. Nothing had changed in the past year. I hadn’t let it. Even though I didn’t spend much time here, I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. Mom’s priestesses maintained the property, and somehow, they’d made sure it still smelled the same. Floral, of course. My mother and I had always been strong on theme. The house worked well as an emergency meeting place for the Pantheon. There was even an entrance to the Underworld in the backyard.

I ran my hand along the familiar kitchen counter, flicking on the warm yellow lights. Rose-print wallpaper adorned the walls of the bright, open space, and white cabinets lined the room. Mom’s kitchen had been the heart of our home. If I didn’t turn around, I could almost pretend she still sat at the table behind me, flipping through one of her gardening magazines.

Salt and water burned at my eyes as I hunched over the pine countertop, my breathing jagged. Almost twenty years ago, my mother got disgustingly close to the biggest jerk in the entire Greek Pantheon—Zeus. And she’d done it for one reason.

Me. She knew that Zeus always passed on a power that gave his children a fighting chance in a world that didn’t believe they existed—charm. Basically, divine mind control. Gods lived off worship, which was increasingly hard to come by unless you had the ability to look a human in the eyes and brainwash them into doing whatever you wanted.

My mother raised me human without any knowledge of the Pantheon outside what little mythology I learned in school. Her deception had far-reaching consequences on my psyche. But she’d done it for the same reasons she’d chosen Zeus to be my father. Most of the gods had failed to blend into human society, becoming more and more isolated from a world they understood less and less as time went by. And for beings who needed worship to survive, isolation was death, charm or not.

Everything she’d done, every choice she’d made, had been with my best interests at heart. She’d given me the best of her powers: rebirth, renewal, spring—all super-poetical ways of saying I made pretty flowers grow— with none of the responsibilities. Mom had this entire life envisioned for me. One where I got to grow into adulthood as a “human” with all the experiences and rites of passage the upper-middle class had to offer. Then, once she deemed me ready, she’d sit me down and show me all the wonderful gifts she’d given me.

I slid to the distressed wooden floor in a rustle of fabric, clutching my knees against my chest. The faint smell of laundry detergent filled my lungs as I took a sharp breath. It would have been a great life.

Mom couldn’t have known that an old enemy would try to rip us apart. She couldn’t have anticipated that Hades would rescue me. That we’d fall in love. Or through a strange twist of fate, I’d become queen of his realm. She couldn’t have known that Zeus would try to suck the very powers she’d given to me from my cold shell of a corpse to help him take over the world.

But even when her best-laid plans went to hell, she protected me. She’d pushed every iota of power she had into my being, shredding her soul, to give me a chance against Zeus. And now she was gone.

A sob tore through my throat.

Take a breath, she would say if she could see how upset I was now. The kitchen would fill with the comforting smell of hot chocolate brewing on the stove. Her green eyes would meet mine with that look that seemed to pierce through my soul and lay it bare. Sit with me for a little bit. Tell me what happened.

Gods, I would do it in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even roll my eyes or sigh or run upstairs to call my best friend, Melissa, and complain instead. I’d spent so much time angry with her for not telling me what I was, so much time fighting or outright avoiding her, and now I’d give anything to get her back.

My breath hitched when I lifted my gaze to the empty table. Power hummed beneath my skin, like tiny bolts of static, searching for a way out. I kept my breathing even, trying to maintain some semblance of control. Otherwise, I was going to spin out thinking about the fact that Mom was dead, Hades was gone, Aphrodite was still in danger, everything was breaking apart, and for some reason, the gods kept looking to me for answers.

In defeating Zeus, I’d become one of the most powerful goddesses there had ever been or likely would be again. Back in the days of the Primordials or even the Titans, the next deity would have only been a step or so down the ladder, but since the power of the Pantheon was at an all-time low, it just meant I had further to fall.

The gods really valued power and hierarchy. A triple realm ruler with near limitless power stood high on both totems, so now, I had a bunch of ancient, powerful beings looking to me for leadership. They didn’t care that I didn’t want it. Power and hierarchy trumped all.

But I’d stepped up to the plate, hadn’t I? I banged my head against the hard cabinet, my gaze settling on the roughhewn elm beams running along the ceiling. I’d been a handy pawn to fight their battles, to win their war, so now they’d elevated me to the frickin’ (unofficial) queen of the Pantheon.

Half the time, I thought they looked to me out of boredom. The rest of the time, I felt sure they’d just been so ready to get the world off their shoulders, they didn’t care who the burden fell to.

It hadn’t been so bad with Hades by my side. We’d split our powers with each other equally, which made our marriage bond super intense. Hades and I were in each other’s heads all the time; we could feel each other’s pain. It sounded like a nightmare, but it wasn’t. He was a piece of me, and I of him, but there were limits to even equilibrium.

We both had to be conscious.

My tears were getting ugly now. The sounds emitting from me with each sob didn’t sound human. Without Hades, I felt like I was missing a limb. I’d never wanted any of this, but it had been worth it with him.

The air rippled, stirring against the folds of my long skirt. I lurched to my feet, glamouring away any evidence of my tears as Poseidon appeared with a wave of salt-laced wind. Beside him, Ares dropped to the ground just in front of the kitchen table. He curled in on himself, crying out in pain.

“What happened?” I dropped to my knees beside him, reaching out to touch Ares’s shoulder. Heat seared my hand, and I jerked back in surprise.

“The poison’s still in his system,” Poseidon said quickly. “Teleportation takes a toll.”

That damn poison. Before we’d even realized the demigods were organizing against us, they’d managed to drug three of my people. Aphrodite got the worst of it, but Ares and Artemis had both been dosed. It affected their ability to use powers, so teleportation put them through a special kind of hell. And there was nothing I could do to make it better. Only dig my nails into my palms and watch helplessly as Ares rode out the pain. I dropped the glamour I’d kept on him and broke his bond of fealty to me just in case that helped.

I’d forgotten how intimidating he looked. Uneven, dark bangs hung over eyes that seemed to burn with rage as he recovered. When he struggled to his feet, the faint scent of burning cinnamon filled the air. He stood a head shorter than Poseidon, but his bulging muscles looked positively herculean in comparison.

A leather jacket appeared in his outstretched hand, and he shrugged it on, relaxing visibly when the folds of fabric touched his skin. His token, I remembered Aphrodite telling me.

Tokens were objects from a god’s home realm that could act as a kind of conduit. Instead of struggling to draw power while in a foreign realm, a god could channel their power through their token. Ares was back in his home realm, but his jacket must have still helped with the pain.

“You.” His eyes flared when they landed on Poseidon, and his voice darkened with the fires of rage. “You left her.”

“She’s still there?” My voice rose in panic, and the power clawing beneath my skin surged, seeking an outlet. A metallic taste filled my mouth, and I realized I’d clamped down on my tongue.

“I tried to get her!” Frustrated waves churned in miniature against the pupils of Poseidon’s sea-green eyes. “That demigoddess must have taken her when she teleported the whole island. I—”

“When she what?” The lights above my head flickered.

Poseidon’s fist clenched with irritation when the ground began to rumble. He drew in a breath, no doubt ready to say something scathing, but then he caught the look on my face.

I wasn’t doing this on purpose. My teeth ground together as I struggled to regain control, blood thick on my tongue. Aphrodite was gone. Trapped on an island with my husband while the demigods did gods knew what to them. An island we no longer knew the location of, because no one had stopped to ask if demigods could teleport. Including me!

How could I have been so stupid? The rest of the gods made their assumptions out of arrogance, refusing to believe anyone mortal could ever reach their level. I was supposed to be different.

“Easy.” Poseidon stretched his hands in a soothing gesture.

“Easy?” Ares surged toward Poseidon. “Easy! Do you have any idea what they’ll do to her? What you’ve left her to?” What—” He paused, seeming to notice the dishes rattling inside the white cabinets.

I sucked in deep breaths of rose-scented air. A lightbulb shattered above my head, glass raining down on the wooden floor.

“Persephone . . .” Poseidon was beside me in an instant, reaching out, but I jerked away before he could touch me.

I hated him. I hated him for hurting my mom all those centuries ago. For staying alive and strong when so many other gods died. For being one of the only people she could turn to for help during the final months of her life. For not stopping her dying. For looking at me the way he did. Like I was the only thing he had left of her. Like I meant something to him. He wasn’t allowed to grieve my mother.

Wood groaned and glass shattered as every door in the house flew open in a gust of damp wind. Oh, gods, I was ruining it. The one place I could still see her. Gasping for composure, I took my hatred for Poseidon and buried it. Like it or not, he was one of the only gods left, and I needed his help. “What do I do?”

Sneak Peek: Venus Rising

venus-1351056_1280

Enjoy a first look at a scene from Venus Rising. SPOILER WARNING for anyone who has not yet read Love and War.

“I can do this,” My numb fingers scrabbled to keep hold of the sheer cliff face. The Island of the DAMNED was a shaped like a tall, mutated teardrop, only a jagged curve sloped into the ocean. I’d edged my way around to lower ground. Unfortunately, the cliff still wasn’t low enough for me to climb given the rough shape I was in.

Between waves, I sputtered specifics, locking myself into the promise, forcing the words true. Now there was no choice in the matter. I had to survive.

Poseidon, I thought, drawing my palm against a rock jutting from the face of the island. The sharp edge pierced my spongy palm without resistance. Blood could pass through the weak shield surrounding the island as well as water. Mine was still divine enough to get Poseidon’s attention.

I hoped.

Shivers racked my body, hard enough to threaten my tenuous hold on the cliff face. Exposure, I added to my mental list of ways I could die. When the entire fricken island teleported across gods know how many time zones, it traded sunny, warm, placid water for a dark night, icy chill, and choppy waves.

“She moved the island.” I spat out the sentence with as much disgust as I could muster. “That stupid…” A litany of curse words followed, but not a single one of them made me feel better. Medea had probably killed herself doing this. And for what?

I squinted against the utter blackness, wishing for a moon, stars, or light of any kind.

Some part of me knew my thrashing could attract creatures living in the water, but that fear had to move aside for the more practical need to keep air in my lungs.

Lightning cracked across the sky, cruelly granting my wish for light in a blinding slash. Of course, Persephone was enraged. The meeting, ostensibly to establish peace with the demigods, had gone horribly wrong when Ares had been outed as an imposter. He’d gotten away, but I’d been dragged along when the island teleported.

So now, not only did the demigods have a weapons cache that could end every god in the Pantheon, they had two hostages. Me and the fricken Lord of the Underworld.

Maybe my cover isn’t blown. They didn’t know I was a goddess. Just that Ares was a god.

And I’d been living with him.

And that we’d arrived on the island at the exact same time.

Yeah, they’d be idiots not to at least suspect. And since gods were physically incapable of telling lies, all it would take to confirm their suspicion was a yes or no question.

Assuming I didn’t drown first.

Something slick brushed against my legs. What was that? I twisted in the water, limbs jerking in all directions like a tangled marionette, but the waves might as well have been made of midnight. Between the pitch-black night and the chaos the island’s teleportation churned, I couldn’t make out my own flesh beneath the waves. I lost my grip on the cliff-face and felt a wave of dizziness as my feet kicked into the endless depths.

Probably just a scared fish, I tried to convince myself. My fear of the ocean depths was mostly instinctive, bred into me by design to keep me from visiting Poseidon’s realm. Having his permission to be here should have quelled the fear. But in the dark of the night with gods knew what swimming around me, that old, instinctual fear no longer listened to reason. I was someplace foreign. Other. I didn’t belong here.

“Just keep moving,” I told myself through gritted teeth, kicking toward the cliff face.

A wave slammed into me, shoving me beneath the inky blackness. I pushed to the surface, gasping for air, but just as I inhaled, another wave slammed into me. Then another. Then another.

Sneak Peek: Venus Rising

venus-1351056_1280

This is incredibly rough, and will likely change before publication, but enjoy a first look at Venus Rising. (No, that is not the cover).

 

Prologue

Aphrodite

I’m not perfect. But I was designed to be. Once upon a time, Zeus sculpted me from foam and death. He made me into a puppet. A box. A symbol. A thing designed to be perfectly obedient to him.

I bent and twisted beneath his onslaught of lightning and thunder, but when the storm cleared, I remained. Fragile and broken, but still alive. His death released me from his vision of perfection, leaving me free to find my own. That’s when I discovered how far from perfect I truly was.

I’ve been called whore, shallow, arrogant, self-centered, annoying, and worse by beings who physically can’t lie. They’re not wrong. I’m riddled with flaws. I am neither strong nor brave. I cling too tightly, love too freely, and fear that without my beauty, there’s nothing left of me. Nothing real.

But life goes on, regardless of my uncertainty. As time passed, I had no choice but to learn to stand on my own two legs, shaky as they may be.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I’m nobody’s statue or posable doll. I am neither a box nor a symbol. Yes, I’ve been loved by war, struck by lightning, hugged by spring, and mauled by the sea, but I’m more than a victim. I am greater than my story.

I’m real, flaws and all, and that’s terrifying. Every day, I become someone else. Someone stronger. Wiser. Better. I’m becoming myself.

But that process isn’t always pretty.

Writing on Wednesday: A Bit of What I’ve Been Working On

Here’s a sneak peek at a project I’ve been working on called “Blood and Other Matter” Let me know what you think:

Hours after my mom left for work, I still hadn’t finished studying. Homework didn’t usually take that long, but I’d been really distracted tonight. It took me a while to figure out I was listening for the sound of Josh’s entitlement-mobile bringing Tess home. My books sprawled across the table, open to the pertinent pages and weighed down with pens, sticky notes, and whatever else I could find to keep the pages down. Not that I could remember a single thing I’d read.

Stupid, I thought, giving up on my AP History essay on the evolution of labor laws after the Triangle Shirt-Waste Fire and checking my watch. Way too early for the eclipse. I headed to the back porch anyway, turning off all the lights as I walked through the house and grabbing the telescope, binoculars, and an assortment of snacks. Might as well get comfortable. One major benefit to living in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere was a lack of light pollution. We didn’t even have streetlights.

Binoculars in hand, I laid back on the splitting cushion covering my lawn chair. Telescopes were great and all, but the field of view was limited. I found the giant rectangle of twinkling stars in the Pegasus Constellation and moved my binoculars southwest until they landed on the bright blur of an oval that was the Andromeda Galaxy.

I grinned, shifting to the telescope. There was something deeply satisfying about this celestial scavenger hunt. I enjoyed piecing together the puzzle of the constellations to find the big picture then zooming in on a thousand year old flicker of light to find the devil in the details.

Fascinating as the night sky was, I had a ton of time to kill. As the minutes ticked into hours, the cushion beneath my back felt ever softer and more inviting. My eyelids drooped. The binoculars clattered to the deck as I bolted upright, heart slamming in my chest. Had I drifted off? I glanced upward and saw a red shadow covering the moon. I’d missed half the show.

My hair prickled on the back of my neck. Stiffening, I fought down the irrational idea that someone, something stood behind me breathing down my neck. A sound caught my ear, something between a hushed breath and a sob. I spun around. Nothing, I was alone on the wooden porch.

“Derrick?” The wind whispered my name in voiceless desperation. Derrick!

Needles of white hot pain slammed through my skull with so much force I hit the deck with a strangled cry. The voice, it wasn’t in the wind it was inside of me. Pain washed over me in waves then just as quickly faded. I crouched on the splintered boards breathing hard, cradling my head in my hands.

“—the hell?” I muttered. What was I doing hunched over on the porch? I stood, surprised to find I was shaking. Above me a crescent of white broke free of the moon’s shadow. I’d missed the eclipse. Dampness drew my hand up to wipe my nose, and I started at the sight of blood glimmering darkly on my fingers. “Did I just have a stroke?”

The doorbell rang. What time was it? I glanced at the phone, still fuzzy with confusion. Just after midnight. Who would be—Mom. Had something happened to Mom?

I rushed into the house and nearly tripping over the threshold in my haste. In a matter of seconds I was at the front door, fumbling with the latch and fighting back the memory of two deputies standing at my door. And suddenly I was right back in that moment when everything changed. My mother’s wail and the thud of her falling to the floor echoed through my head on repeat. Only this time I wasn’t too numb to understand what was happening.

You’re the man of the house now, our pastor told me at the funeral. Who the fuck puts that kind of pressure on a seven year old? I gained the presence of mind to glance through the peephole, but there were no deputies on my front stoop. Just a slim girl, whose very shadow I would always recognize no matter how dark the night.

“Tess?” I flung open the door unable to keep the aggravation out of my voice. First she’d ditched me for Josh Worthington, then she’d nearly given me a fucking heart attack knocking on my door and bringing back all that–The sarcastic greeting I had prepped fled from the tip of my tongue and left me speechless.

She was covered in blood.

Covered in blood. That expression gets tossed around a lot, but I’d never really considered what it looked like. Her clothes were red and matted to her body, her face, arms and legs were slathered in red flakes, like skin that got sunburned and peeled into those clumps you could brush off. Most of the gore was dry, but some wet patches glistened in the porch light.

She wasn’t wearing shoes.

“Der,” she sobbed. “Please.” Her voice sounded distant somehow, like she was speaking from somewhere far away. “I couldn’t get in my house.”

That snapped me out of it. “Come inside, quick.” I pulled her through the doorway, shocked brain registering the way her clothes squished under my palm. Bits of dried matter flaked off of her and onto my entryway. “What happened? Are you hurt? Hang on, I’ll call Mom.”

“No!” She clutched at my shirt with clawed hands. “You can’t call anyone. It’s not…” She swallowed hard. “It’s not mine.”

“Then whose is it?” Since when were her nails that long? What did that mater? Why did I keep noticing all these stupid details like they could possibly matter while puddles of gore dripped on my floor. Could one person produce all of this? I glanced out to the street, confirming what I already knew. No car. “Tess, was there a wreck? Did Josh’s car–”

She shook her head, clinging to me with an anguished moan. “They just kept screaming. I didn’t mean to do it, but they just kept screaming.”

I slammed the door and locked it, surprised when my hand left a wet print on the gleaming white paint. “Didn’t mean to do what, Tess! Who was screaming? Your mom?” My gaze turned to her house but all of the lights were off and her mom’s car wasn’t in the driveway.

“No. Oh God, Derrick! I tried to stop it.” She wrapped her arms around me, trembling like an autumn leaf, red and cracked and frail. “I tried, Derrick, you have to believe me. You have to help me.”

“I believe you,” I assured her, holding her tight. God, she was shaking. Her breath came in sharp, panicked gasps, tickling my neck in the same spot I felt my pulse pounding. “And I’m trying to help you, but you have to let me call somebody.”

“No!” She flinched away like I’d struck her. “You can’t, Derrick. Promise me, please!”

“Why not!” I demanded, in frustration, then took a breath and tried a calmer approach. “You’re hurt.”

“It’s not mine!”

The blood? “Then clearly someone else is hurt. Just…tell me what happened and we’ll figure out where to go from there. Start with the bonfire.”

She went rigid in my arms at the word bonfire and I drew back in confusion. “Tess? Is that it? Did something happen at the bonfire?” She couldn’t have come from the bonfire. It was too far away. She couldn’t have walked all the way from Bankhead Forest. Not at night. Not barefoot. Could she? “Tess!” I grabbed her shoulders. “Come on! What happened? Who was screaming?”

A feverish light gleamed in her eyes. “Everyone,” she whispered.

A chill went up my spine when her lips split into a blood-soaked grin. “Tessa?” My voice turned hesitant as the girl I knew better than anyone in the whole world transformed into something I didn’t recognize. Her expression, that smile, those eyes: the only way I could describe it was gleeful malevolence. I fought the urge to push her away from my house and lock the door. That was ridiculous, this was Tess!

In a flash her expression morphed from glee to terror. “No, no, no, no!” She moaned, pushing away from me, voice stuttering and quaking in fear. “I couldn’t help it. I didn’t mean to. I can’t–” Tess clutched at her head, fingers hooked into claws like she was in pain. Her eyes met mine, wide with terror. “Help me,” she gasped, before she collapsed, eyes fluttering closed.

Grimacing at the overwhelming smell of salt and copper, I caught her on impulse. “Tess!” What was I supposed to do? Call 911? Not until I got some answers. I looked around, trying to figure out what to do, where to set her down, but she was so slick in my arms anywhere I put her would–why didn’t she want me to call anyone? Had she done something? Hurt someone? My mind flashed to that maniacal grin as I considered something worse. Could Tess kill someone?

Never. I took a deep breath and considered what I knew. This was Tess. The girl who used to cry after every class trip to the library because she loved animals and still hadn’t caught on that every animal in every book written for children dies. Tess, who would cross the street and come to my house if she saw a cockroach. There wasn’t a violent bone in her body.

She’s in shock. The smart thing to do would be to tell my mom. Tess probably needed medical attention and–

Her voice echoed in my head. It’s my fault. All my fault. I didn’t mean to.

I froze. Move, do something! But I just couldn’t seem to commit myself to an action. If I did call Mom, would Tess say something incriminating to Mom’s deputies? They didn’t know her as well as I did. Her grin flashed into my head and my throat went dry. What if she did do something?

But what if she was in shock? Josh, and anyone else who’d ridden with him could be bleeding out right now while I stood here like an idiot.

Wait. If she was in shock, then she could actually be hurt. I rushed into the bathroom and laid her in the tub, yanking the first aid kit from underneath the countertop, just in case, and set to work searching for an open wound.

There’s no way she’d still be alive if she lost this much blood. My fingers probed at her skin as though a wound big enough to be responsible for this much bleeding could be subtle. Arteries? No, any of the major arteries wouldve bled out before knocked on the door. I didn’t even find a paper cut. Unless…I swallowed hard and pulled her weird, new, dress-like thing over her head. What was this thing, anyway? And um…wow, why wasn’t she wearing anything else under it?

Okay, back on task. I couldn’t find a wound that could explain all the blood. My hands shook as I draped a towel over Tess’ middle; normally I’d sell my soul to see her naked, but there was nothing even remotely sexy about this situation.

I turned on the faucet, grabbed a towel, and washed the gore off of her. Time passed in a weird haze as I spent what felt like hours scrubbing the dried, hardened crust off her skin. Scrub, rinse, repeat until the sanguine water ran clear. My mind fell into some kind of dumbfounded stupor as I focused on the task with an almost clinical dispassion. If I didn’t think about what I was doing this was easy.

I kept expecting Tess to wake up and tell me this whole thing was just some stupid prank. Maybe one of those TV shows. “What would you do? Well, Derrick here would not call 911 when a girl covered in blood passed out on his porch. Care to explain that logic?”

She’d asked me not to.

Maybe I was the one who needed to wake up. What if I was dreaming?

If this is a dream, when you wake up, tell Mom you need some serious therapy. In the meantime, get under her nails.

I scraped the congealed gunk free from beneath her fingernails. That…was flesh. My stomach lurched, and the fog in my brain fled with a burst of adrenaline as her bloodstained lips and fingernails took on a new light. She’d fought. Tess had used her teeth and nails and she struggled against….what? But I hadn’t found any sign of bruising. No cuts, no scrapes. Nothing to indicate that whatever she’d fought against struck back.

“What happened, Tess? Please, please just wake up.” I begged. What am I doing? I sat back on my heels, hands shaking as I dropped the marred washcloth, abandoning her fingernails. She should be in a hospital, the logical side of my brain argued. She’s unconscious. That alone warrants a 911 call.

Her pulse was steady, her breathing even. If she got worse at all, I’d call 911, but otherwise…I covered my face with my hands. What had I done? Could I get in trouble for not calling the police? What would that go down as? Tampering with evidence? Aiding and abetting? Who the hell knew?

Say you were in shock. That you weren’t thinking at all. You’re on honor roll, your mom’s a public figure. Theyll believe you. I looked to Tess. I’d heard what people said about her when they didn’t think I was listening. The assumptions people made because of her mother, the way she looked, because she was poor, because she missed a ton of school, because of her grades, the list of strikes against her was miles long. If something had happened at that bonfire, and any student there was to blame, the Josh Worthington’s of the world would walk scot-free. The news had proven that time and time again. Girls like Tess made great scapegoats.

No, I wasn’t calling the cops until I found out exactly what happened. Some part of my brain resisted that plan enough to know it didn’t make sense. That this was a bad idea. But I couldn’t acknowledge it. This was too much. I’d been pulled from sleep into some kind of crazy nightmare. Something horrific had happened to my best friend and I was sitting in a bathroom that looked like a crime scene straight out of Dexter. My brain couldn’t handle logic. Couldn’t listen to the voice screaming in my head that she might be hurt in a way I wasn’t qualified to diagnose. That she might not wake up if I didn’t get her help right now. Or that she might not be the only person who was hurt.

Instead I followed instructions. Like there was a list being rattled off in my brain of how to make all of this disappear. I finished scrubbing beneath her nails, then everywhere else. When I was sure she was clean, that not a speck of blood remained on her body, I bleached everything in the bathroom, stripped out of my clothes and scrubbed myself down. Check. Check. Check. Moving on autopilot, I tossed everything cloth I’d interacted with into the wash and finished off the bottle of bleach and hydrogen peroxide.

I almost threw her dress into the washing machine then thought better of it and stuffed the garment into a plastic bag and tied it off. We might need it later for evidence. Of what?

Instead of giving into the temptation of thinking, I moved on to the next item on the list.   Finish cleaning the bathroom. After scrubbing the bathtub with hydrogen peroxide, I plugged the drain and poured half a bottle of bleach into the basin, then filled it with water and let it sit while I mopped the floors with what was left.

I took bleach wipes to the bathroom counters, even though I didn’t think I’d touched them, then got Tess and me dressed. Once she was tucked into the bed, I went through the house and the front porch.

Bone weary and more than a little sick from fumes, I walked back into the house and opened every window and turned on every fan. The house still wasn’t forensic proof, but it was enough to fool mom. I pulled the plug in the bath and checked on the clothes. White as snow. I’d have to close all the windows later and throw the clothes in the dryer. Not to mention replacing all the cleaning stuff I’d used before mom realized her once a year “subscribe and save” one click buy hadn’t lasted as long as it should have. But for now, I could rest.

Exhausted and numb, I sat on the chair next to my bed and studied Tess. Her chest rose and fell, so at least she was breathing, even if her face was way too pale.

You did good.

I was too exhausted to care that I didn’t recognize that voice as my own.

Sunday Short: Aphrodite’s first chapters from Hades’ POV

Aphrodite was not one of the original narrators for Iron Queen. It took me writing these two chapters to realize the story NEEDED her voice to make sense. Her perspective was important to the story, and it told me things I couldn’t get from Hades. This is a cut, unedited, very, very rough set of scenes in Hades’ perspective that ended up being reworked to be in Aphrodite’s pov. Enjoy 🙂

Chapter I
Hades

“Hades?”
Cool hands shook me and I opened my eyes with a groan. Aquamarine eyes looked at me in concern. I blinked, recognizing Aphrodite.
“Hades!” She shook me again.
Why am I on the ground? I was sprawled across dry leaves, half dead grass, and dirt. My head felt like it was full of molten lava. I could feel an entrance to the Underworld nearby. Something was wrong. Really wrong.
“Hades!” Aphrodite shook me again. “Where is she?”
Persephone! I bolted upright as the memories crashed back. We’d been wrong about Aphrodite. It was Joel. Joel was Zeus! And I’d left her alone with him.
Persephone’s voice, desperate and frightened, had surged through my mind. I can get him to the entrance, Hades. This can still work!
Then blinding pain surged through our connection and I’d been on the ground.
I shoved past Aphrodite and ran up the dirt path.
“Hades, where is she? What happened?” Aphrodite asked. She lagged behind me, picking through the forest in her heels. “She called me for help. She said that Thanatos was working with Zeus and he’d attacked her. I told her to stay behind a shield while she waited for me.” She cleared her throat. “She said Thanatos was dead.”
“More than dead.” I’d killed him then destroyed his soul. Enjoyed every minute of it too. Thanatos had spent months torturing my wife. An excruciatingly painful death was the least he deserved.
“She already told you?” There was a crash and a thud. Leaves crunched, twigs snapped. Aphrodite cursed. A red heel flew past my head. “Hey!” She shouted, picking herself up from a pile of leaves. “I’m talking to you! What happened? Where is Persephone? And why the hell were you unconscious!”
I kept pushing through the woods. Bent and crushed daisies were randomly strewn across the path.
Another heel flew past me. “What did you do? You were a jerk about it, weren’t you!” Aphrodite glanced back in the direction we’d come from. “Did she knock you out?”
I didn’t dignify that with a response. Here. I stopped when I reached a small gazebo. A bouquet of daises littered the ground. The earth was scorched. There was no sign of either of them. I knelt, fingers brushing the dirt. Sunlight filtered through the trees, and a cool breeze carried the smell of barbecue. Hadn’t it just been raining? How long had I been out? The wet dirt stuck to my fingers, and I stared at it, lost in thought.
She’d been in so much pain. There was nothing in the space she inhabited in my mind now. Complete silence.
It couldn’t have been long. Aphrodite had just pulled up when– I closed my eyes against the echo of the searing pain that had flashed through my head. I’d been shielded. How long did it take for a shield to drop if I lost consciousness? How far could they go? How could they travel?
Aphrodite’s breath hitched, interrupting my mental math. “No.” She turned to face me. “You let him take her?”
Loathing, pure and unadulterated flashed through me, boiling my blood. She saw it in my face and blanched.
“You knew.” It wasn’t a question.
She stepped backward, holding her hands up in surrender.
“Please, please don’t hurt me. I didn’t–”
“Didn’t what?”
She flinched. “P… Please. He said he wouldn’t need to hurt her.”
A vision of my wife being struck by lightning flashed through my brain.
“He didn’t need to.”
“I didn’t know–”
“Didn’t know what?” I closed the gap between us. She backed up, stopping when her back met a tree. “Didn’t know he would take her? Didn’t know he would hurt her? Didn’t know he was pretending to be Joel? What didn’t you know? We told you he was dangerous. We told you what he wanted. And after everything she did for you, you pushed her toward him! Why?”
“He’s our father!” Aphrodite’s voice broke.
“You honestly think he gives a damn about you!” I grabbed her by the shoulders. She felt small and fragile. It would be easy, so easy to break her. “You’re nothing but a tool to him, and you just threw the only person who gave a damn about you to the wolves. He left you here, with me and Demeter. What exactly do you think happens next?”
She seemed to consider that. The fear melted away from her face and confidence filled her eyes. “You’re not going to hurt me.”
I tightened my grip, fingers biting into her flesh. “And what makes you so sure of that?”
“She wouldn’t want you to.”
She was right. Persephone and I dealt with things… Differently. My way tended to be a lot more violent. But Persephone knew that. “Didn’t stop me with Thanatos, and that sure as hell isn’t going to protect you from Demeter.”
She swallowed hard. “I didn’t have a choice.”
“Bullshit.”
“I didn’t!” Her voice rose. “He’s my father.”
I let her go and put some distance between us so I didn’t completely lose it and hit her. “That doesn’t mean anything!”
“Yes, it does. Hades, I couldn’t tell her. I tried, but he told me not to.” She threw up her hands in frustration. “He’s my father.”
No. My mouth dropped open. No. No one would do that. It was unthinkable. Horrific. Even the Titans had given us free will. Lot of good that did them.
“You have to listen to him.” I’d missed that. How had I missed that? She’d called Persephone sister. Gods didn’t think of each other like that. We weren’t family, we were just created. There were no genetic ties. No grouping instincts. Those were human weaknesses. Exceptions were rare. Demeter chose to act like a human mother toward Persephone, and Persephone treated her accordingly, but Aphrodite hadn’t been raised with those beliefs or expectations. When she latched on to those titles right a way it should have been a huge red flag.
But then I’d also missed the fact that one of my most trusted advisors was working with Zeus, that my wife was being tortured by Reapers, and that her new boyfriend was actually the very man I’d been hunting for months.
What was wrong with me? I was usually more on top of things. I’m one of the only gods left. I didn’t get where I am today by being oblivious to the world around me.
Aphrodite watched me with wary eyes. “I didn’t realize I had to listen to him. Not until I saw him here in the park.” Her lips were pressed together so hard they’d turned white. “She fought against him so hard. But he was using the Reapers to wear her down so he could charm her. She didn’t have a chance. You should have kept her in the Underworld.”
“You think?” I pushed my hair out of my face. “Come on, let’s get to the bridge.” I set off for the lake in the center of the park.
Aphrodite hastened after me. “The bridge, why?”
“I’ve got to call Demeter. Do you want to be standing in her realm when she finds out Zeus has her daughter?”
Aphrodite blanched, and quickened her pace.
****
I hadn’t even hung up Persephone’s phone when Demeter appeared beside me on the wooden bridge.
“What do you mean Zeus has her? You told me you’d keep her in the Underworld where she’d be safe.” Demeter’s color was high, her eyes blazing with fury. She was a good bit shorter than me, but for a second it still felt like she was towering over me. Persephone could have the same effect. I shook my head, it was weird how alike they looked, and right now I couldn’t get Demeter’s daughter out of my head.
Then her gaze fell on Aphrodite. “What are you doing here?”
I stepped in front of Aphrodite before Demeter could do any damage. “We were wrong. Joel was Zeus, and when he created Aphrodite he programmed–” I shot Aphrodite an apologetic glance for not finding a better word for it, “her to follow orders.”
“It’s just loyalty to family,” Aphrodite interjected, voice small. “It worked for her, too, just to a lesser degree.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Persephone wouldn’t control you.”
“Have you met your wife? She’s bossy and–” Aphrodite glanced between me and Demeter and cleared her throat. “Gosh, she’s just a wonderful person. I’m sure she would have toned it down had she known I had to listen to her.”
“Joel is Zeus?” Demeter sounded shocked. She shook her head as if to clear it and focused on Aphrodite. “What else were you ordered to do?”
“Nothing further for the moment. But if I were you, I’d keep me supervised by someone that can’t be charmed.”
Demeter gritted her teeth and turned to me. “This is your fault. You brought her–” she jabbed a finger at Aphrodite. “To my realm, you put her under my roof with my daughter. You let Zeus–”
“I didn’t let him take her. If you weren’t so stingy with your teleportation authorization, I’d have been able to get to her–”
Demeter paled with fury. “Are you suggesting this is somehow my fault? You made her a target when you forced her to marry you–”
“She was already a target! And thanks to you, she was helpless. Had she known what she was–”
“Really,” Aphrodite interrupted. “The blame game? That’s the most important thing on the agenda right now? Okay, I’ll take a turn then. This is your fault–” she gestured at me. “Because you’re an idiot. Had you treated her more like your wife and less like an addlepated teenager she wouldn’t have given Joel a second look. She should have been too powerful for Zeus to charm and had you two been linked the way you should have, then you would have known about Thanatos and the Reapers.
“But don’t look so smug,” she added, turning to Demeter. “You’d have her believe she was nothing, just some silly mortal teenager. She shouldn’t have been going on dates and hanging out with friends. There are demi gods and minor deities going missing from your realm.”
Demeter looked at her in surprise.
“Oh yes, I know all about that.” Aphrodite smiled. “Did it ever occur to you that she could help? That she should help? You know, the only person who treated her with the respect due to her station and level of powers is Zeus. He at least treats her like a threat. You two–” Aphrodite waved her hand. “You two seem to have forgotten that she can actually be useful.”
Demeter looked like she was about to say something, but I cut her off. “Aphrodite is right. We don’t have time to argue about this right now. We need to rescue–”
“Rescue her!’ Aphrodite exclaimed. “You two still don’t get it, do you? She’s powerful! She ranks, and incidentally, she’s part of a very small group left that can kill Zeus. Use her.”
Demeter shook her head. “She’s not strong enough.”
Aphrodite scoffed, and propped herself up on the rail of the bridge. A fountain set in the center of the lake sparkled behind her, bathing her in glittering light. “Well then let’s fix that. I swear fealty–”
My hand shot out, nearly knocking her from the bridge. “Stop.” Persephone still hadn’t come into her powers yet. Too much unfiltered power could kill her.
My throat constricted. I’d been channeling the excess power away every night. If we didn’t find her soon…
Aphrodite’s eyes flicked over my face. “Exactly. If she’s going to die anyway, why not take Zeus down with her?’