HEPHAESTUS

Goodness Gracious Great God of Fire.jpg

“Get Artemis’s bike all fixed up?”

I shot him a narrow-eyed glance, then nodded. “Yep.”

“What happened to it?”

“Didn’t ask,” I said. “Figured it was none of my business.”

Zeus slowly turned toward me, his hands and jaw slightly clenched. “Lying to me now, are we?”

I shrugged, then knocked back the rest of my beer before signaling for another. “You want answers, go ask her. I’m not her babysitter.”

We locked eyes, a silent contest of wills. Most gods would cower before him, but Zeus and I had a different history than most. One full of bloodshed and shattered bones. It was because of him that I’d been permanently maimed, and that wasn’t something I could easily forgive, no matter how much my mother, Hera, begged me to.

“If I could cast you into Tartarus—”

“Ditto, old man,” I growled.

The bartender slid me another pint of beer, his gaze darting between us. Wise man, the bartender. He could see the restrained violence brimming between us.

“Hey, Zeus!” Dionysus appeared next to us, clapping a hand down on Zeus’s shoulder. “Ares is looking for a darts partner, and Hermes didn’t want to play. You game? We need someone with lightning bolt accuracy.”

Zeus’s lips twitched. Without another word, he rose from his seat and stormed to the back of the bar where Ares and Apollo waited. They welcomed him with a slightly buzzed cheer, then started whipping darts at the board, unaware that the darts were punching through to the wall beneath. Hopefully the bartender didn’t notice either.

“Man, you gotta stop pissing ol’ Z off,” Dionysus said, dropping into Zeus’s abandoned seat.

I snorted into my beer. “That’s never going to happen.”

“Yeah.” Dionysus leaned across the bar and grabbed a bottle of unopened wine.

The bartender started to storm over, but before he could reach us, Dion threw a couple hundred dollar bills down and waved his hand politely.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the imaginary dollar signs flashing in the bartender’s eyes. He was going to love us by the time we left.

“So, what was it this time?” Dion asked, popping the cork.

“Nothing, man. Just our typical nonsense.”

“Wanna try and get drunk?” Dion lifted the bottle to his nose, sniffed, then winced. “Maybe not off this crap. Man, this is swill. Where’s the real booze?”

“I don’t know, you tell me,” I said, laughing.

Rumor had it, Dion had recently begun fermenting some wine. I wasn’t sure how good it would taste, considering grapes from Mount Olympus were quite different from anything found on earth, but Dion was up for the challenge. And as one of his purveyors, I couldn’t wait to taste his newest batch. If anyone knew how to make decent wine, it was this guy.  

Before Dion could respond, movement caught my attention. I lifted my head just in time to catch sight of the bar door swinging open. Moonlight bathed the floor seconds before a hooded figure stepped inside.

Clearly another human, considering their petiteness.

No longer interested, I lifted my beer to my lips and started to turn away. Until she lifted her hands and pushed the hood off her head. Waves of luscious crimson hair tumbled down her back in a glorious, fiery waterfall.

My breath caught, and I choked on my drink.

Dion laughed, then clapped me on the back. “Yeah, I know, this human shit is just plain nasty. Someone needs to teach them how to make good wine.”

I slowly nodded, suddenly too enraptured by this woman to focus on anything else. She turned toward the bar, her eyes briefly flicking over me before settling on the bartender. She was utterly captivating. Her eyes shimmered in the dim light, accentuated by a light dusting of bronze shadow, and highlighted with dark liner. Her plump lips were painted a light pink, almost unnoticeably so, and her cheeks seemed to glitter.

A goddess among humans, surely.

The woman scurried up next to me, then rested her arms on the bar. My mouth parted against the rim of my glass, and I was about to ask her name, when she waved down the bartender.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, sir, but do you have a phone I could use? I’ll pay.”

Shockingly, the bartender seemed wholly unaffected by her, which was madness. She was beauty incarnate. How could someone not notice her?

The bartender gave a quick nod, then gestured to a phone sitting on the far side of the bar’s counter.

“Thank you so much!” She hopped off the stool and marched to the other end.

“Yo, Hephaestus.” Dion nudged me in the shoulder. “Are you listening to me?”

I cleared my throat and forced my attention back to the god of wine. Beautiful or not, I couldn’t let myself be distracted by a woman—especially a mortal one. While us gods used to fraternize with human women all the time, Zeus wasn’t too keen on it anymore. It always caused too much trouble in the long run.

“Uh, yeah, sorry.” I rubbed my brow in an attempt to clear my head. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

“What’s wrong?” Dion frowned.

“Nothing. Just ignore me.”

Dionysus glanced around the bar. I knew the moment he spotted the woman because he burst out laughing and slapped his thigh. “Seriously? A woman? Hephaestus, I’m surprised by you!”

I grumbled an illegible response and shoved him hard, nearly knocking him off his stool. “Drop it.”

 

“Oh, no, no, no. I’m not ignoring this! I haven’t seen you interested in any woman since Aphrodite.”

I snarled under my breath at the mention of my ex-wife’s name. “Don’t.”

“Aww, come on. It’s been long enough. I think you should be able to talk about her now. It’s not like you actually loved her. It was an arranged marriage that blew up in your faces. You must have expected that!”

“That doesn’t mean I want to rehash it with you.” I lifted a hand, calling for another beer.

“Go talk to her!” Dion pressed, chuckling under his breath before taking a swig of wine. “What can it hurt?”

“Back. Off.”

I stared into my beer, determined to keep my eyes off the mysterious woman and on the amber liquid instead. But my eyes kept flicking back to her, watching as she spoke into the phone.

It wasn’t until I noticed two men closing in on her that I straightened.

I didn’t like the looks of them at all, the way they leered at her and jeered each other on. They reminded me of Ares whenever someone challenged him to something. Meaning, trouble.

The woman’s conversation ended quickly, but when she turned around, she startled at the sight of the two men crowding her. It was a universal rule that attractive women get hit on in biker bars, but for some reason, seeing them hit on this woman bothered me. A rush of unfamiliar emotion began building with me—a need to protect her, and to break every last bone in their bodies if they so much as touched her.

When one of them reached out and touched a lock of her hair,  I shot to my feet.

“Whoa, big guy,” Dion said, all humor vanishing from his voice. “Don’t get involved. Let the humans be.”

Yeah, to Tartarus with that.

The woman’s face tightened, and her mouth clearly formed the word “no,” which was all I needed to see. But like most men found in these seedy types of locations, they didn’t listen. Instead, the other guy sidled up close to her and slid an arm around her waist, tugging her into his side. He murmured something in her ear. Something that had her eyes widening and her face draining of all color.

And that was it. The final straw for me.

“Hephaestus!” Dion shouted the second I shoved the stool back and started marching toward the woman.

I felt all my siblings’ eyes on me, curious as to what had upset me, but I ignored each and every one of them. I couldn’t tear my own gaze away from the woman. All I knew was they needed to get their damn hands off her, and fast, before I ripped them off.

Apparently, I needn’t have worried, though. Because the second I came within reaching distance, the woman grabbed the arm slung around her waist, pulled, twisted, then snapped it back, driving the man to his knees. She stared down at him with absolutely no warmth in her eyes, then drilled her knee into his nose, proving she knew exactly how to defend herself.

Asshole number one dropped, then screamed into his palms while writhing in agony on the floor.

“You little b—” the other started, drawing his fist back with every intention of striking her.

I swept in. My hand easily enveloped his, and I squeezed, listening as every single finger broke in tandem.

His screams were music to my ears. I wasn’t a particularly violent god, not like Ares, who lived for battle, but I refused to stand by and watch these men attack her. They needed to learn a lesson of humility and manners.

I loomed over the two of them, my massive shadow dwarfing their figures. They stared up at me, horror masking their faces when they realized I wasn’t some puny guy they could fight.

My upper lip curled in disgust, and I unleashed a low growl worthy of Cerberus. “Get. Out.”

Without another word, the two scrambled to their feet and bolted out of the door. Hopefully they never returned to this establishment. 

Then I lifted my head and caught the woman’s gaze. Her eyes practically sizzled with anger. “I didn’t need your help.”

A faint smile pulled at my lips. No, she most certainly hadn’t. “I wasn’t protecting you from them, darling. I was protecting them from you.”