The Gatekeeper's Challenge

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
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Gatekeeper’s Saga
, Book Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE

GATEKEEPER’S

CHALLENGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eva Pohler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publ
ished by Green Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, happenings, and dialogue came from the author’s imagination and are not real.

 

THE GATEKEEPER’S CHALLENGE
. Copyright 2012 by Eva Pohler.

All rights reserved.

 

FIRST EDITION

 

Book Cover Design by Melinda
VanLone

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication has been applied for

 

ISBN -13: 978-061571928

ISBN-10: 0615719287

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Eva Pohler writes fiction and teaches writing and literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio where she lives with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two rats. Plea
se look for the other books in the Gatekeeper’s Saga:
The Gatekeeper’s Daughter
(May 1 2013),
The Gatekeeper’s House
(November 1, 2013),
The Gatekeeper’s Secret
(April 1, 2014), and
The Gatekeeper’s Promise
(November 1, 2014). Check her website for details at
http://www.evapohler.com
. Her adult novel,
The Mystery Box
, can be found at most booksellers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my
grandparents, Ro Ann and Luther Ouellette and Joe and Margaret Mokry; my parents, Cathy and Joe Mokry; my in-laws and second parents, Danny and Lois Pohler; my siblings, Lisa Hubacek, Rachel Mokry, and Jody Mokry; my husband, David Pohler; and my three children, Mason, Travis, and Candace Pohler. Without them, this book would not have happened. I would also like to thank my book cover designer, Melinda VanLone. Finally, I would like to thank my aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, critique group, and book club for their help and support.

 

 

 

Chapter One: Sleep and Death

 

Therese Mills let out a shrill, gleeful scream. “You’re back!” She practically flew into
Than’s arms, running across the gravelly drive of her Colorado log cabin, the small pebbles working their way between her bare feet and flip-flops. She kept saying, “You’re back!” over and over with profound disbelief. The ten months since she had last seen him at Mount Olympus over the dead body of Steve McAdams had seemed an eternity.

“You feel so good,” Than murmured as his lips caressed her now-moist skin, hot beneath the summer sun and his even hotter body against her.  He stopped, ran his fingers through her short, red curls. “Nice.”

“Not too short?”

“I love it. Makes your adorable dimples stand out more.” He kissed her again, his hands moving along her bare waist.
“On your way for a swim?”

She was wearing the same bikini from last summer, the one she wore shortly after she
and Than had met at Jen’s ranch down the road. She smiled now at the memory of their swim in the lake. The lake was actually a reservoir tucked in a small valley between the San Juan Mountains. Only five homes, including hers and Jen’s, spread apart and wedged in the mountains, shared this spectacular view.

“Care to join me?”

“What about your aunt and uncle?”

“They’re inside, working. They won’t bother us.”

He covered her with more kisses.

They were kissing on her gravelly drive one minute and at the bank the next, holding hands on the jetties, about to jump. A hawk soared over the valley beneath the early morning sun.

“Did we just god travel?” Therese asked Than.

He gave her what seemed an arrogant smirk that said, “Of course.”

Before she could ask another question, Than had stripped down to his white boxers and was pulling her into to the frigid water, and she was screaming gleefully again.

“It’s so cold!”

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve missed you, and all of this, more than you can know.”

He held her close, keeping her warm, and was about to kiss her again when they heard the crunch of footsteps along the jetties.

“Pete!” Therese cried, surprised. He had been her rock since last summer, a shoulder to cry on, a friend—maybe more than a friend since Cupid shot his arrow into Pete’s heart—to keep her from losing her mind. She pulled back from Than and gave Pete an awkward smile. “Feel like a swim?”

“Hey,
Than,” Pete said with what seemed like a forced grin. “How’s it going?”

“Hey, Pete.
How’s your family?” Than ran his fingers through his dark wavy hair, maybe in an attempt to appear casual and unaffected by Pete’s sudden appearance.

Pete’s blond bowl hair cut from last summer had grown out, and he hadn’t bothered to cut it. Therese had told him she liked it long. Just now he had it tied back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wore his blue jeans and boots and a long-sleeved shirt open in front, exposing his tanned chest and abdomen. He looked really good, for a mortal.

“The family’s okay. Summer is our busy season, you know.” Then Pete added, “Need a job?”

“This is a quick visit,” Than replied.
“But thanks anyway. Tell everybody I said hello.”

“You should do it yourself,” Pete said. “They’d be happy to see you.”

Pete’s family—the Holts—ran a trail riding business down the road, and last summer, Than had taken a job as a horse handler when their usual hands had to take time off due to a death in the family. Therese later suspected Than had arranged it all so that they could meet—in the flesh, that is. They had already met when she was in a coma after her parents were killed by one of McAdams’s Taliban spies. She had followed her parents to the Underworld, but had assumed it was a dream, and, as she had always been a lucid dreamer and able to manipulate the events of her dreams, she had been especially bossy and flirtatious with the god of death and with his brother, the god of sleep. She couldn’t have known then that it had all been real and that the god of death, unused to receiving affection, would fall in love with her and follow her back to the world of the living.

But she was glad.
More than glad. She was absolutely thrilled. And now he had finally come back for her. But what would she tell Pete?

She could see the pain in Pete’s face.

“Are we still on for the movies tonight?” Pete asked.

Therese could feel the blood leave her face as
Than studied it. Surely he, a god, had been aware of her slightly-more-than-friends relationship with Pete. “Umm. I’m not sure, Pete. Can I give you a call?”

Jen stepped up beside Pete with her arms folded across her chest.
“Hey, Than. What’s up?”

“Hey, Jen.
It’s good to see you.”

Jen, who, like all the people in Therese’s life, had remained ignorant of
Than’s true identity, was pretty steamed that Than hadn’t called or written for ten months. Therese also knew Jen wouldn’t be too happy that Therese would drop Pete for Than.

“It’s been a while,” Jen said. “I thought maybe, I don’t know, you’d fallen off the face of the earth.”

“Not exactly,” Than said.

“You might have called,” Jen said accusingly.

“It’s um, complicated.”

“Yeah, right.
They don’t have phones down south in Texas.”

“Jen,” Therese said sharply. “Give it a rest.”

“We’re still going to the movies tonight,” Jen insisted. “You and me and Pete and Matthew. I already paid for the tickets online and the movie’s sold out.”

“Take Bobby,” Therese said.

Pete clenched his jaw. “Come on, Jen. We’ve got work to do.”

Pete walked away, and when he was out of sight, Jen, who stood there with her arms crossed, said between gritted teeth, “Don’t you dare hurt my brother. Our family has been through enough lately. You should know.”

Jen referred to the return of her father after three years of estrangement. Therese didn’t know the details, but apparently Mr. Holt had hurt Jen in unmentionable ways while drunk, and after years of therapy and being sober, had returned for a second chance. Therese had loaned Jen her invisibility crown, a gift from Artemis, so she could disappear if her father ever fell off the wagon. But Jen had no idea how the crown worked or how it came to be in Therese’s possession.

In fact, it was the existence of the crown from Artemis, the locket from Athena, and the traveling robe and gown from Aphrodite that had
assured Therese when she was feeling low that the events of last summer hadn’t been imaginary.

Before Therese could reply,
Than’s sister Meg, one of the Furies, appeared beside Jen. She too had her arms crossed, and her blonde hair, blonder and longer than Jen’s and curly where Jen’s was straight, blew about her face like a gilded sunburst. “This is wrong, Than!” she roared.  Her face was pale and her lips bright red, like fresh blood. “You’re screwing with the lives of mortals, not to mention the lives of gods.”

Jen’s mouth dropped open. “What is she talking about, Therese?”

Therese felt her face go white. Why would Meg expose their identity to Jen?

“Back off, Meg!”
Than shouted. “This is none of your business.”

“Of course it is, dear brother! We are all in danger after the oath we took on the
River Styx at Ares’s command. Do you wish us all to be ripped apart by the maenads?”

Therese cringed at the memory of Mount Olympus. Therese had broken her deal with the Olympians by refusing to kill McAdams, which would avenge the death of her parents. You couldn’t refuse the gods and not face consequences, she supposed.

But Meg’s words confused Therese. The maenads, women drunk with the wine of Dionysus, could only rip apart someone who dared rescue Therese from the dead. That’s not what Than was doing.

What was he doing, anyway?

Now Tizzie, another of the three Furies, stood beside her sister with her hands on her hips. Her dark, serpentine curls hung loose about her shoulders and caressed the chain of emeralds around her neck. Where her sister was pale like the moon, she was dark like midnight. “Let her go, Than. She’s been doing fine with the mortal. Let her live a natural life with Peter Holt.”

“Therese, you can’t hurt Pete!” Jen shouted. “You just can’t!”

“You can’t hurt Pete!” the two Furies joined in. Their voices became a chant.

Therese took
Than’s hand. “Get me out of here,” she muttered. “Before they kill me.”

Suddenly with the sound of an enormous train, the water parted like it must have when Moses commanded the Red Sea.

“What in the world?” Therese stood beside Than, shivering on the rocky bottom.

“Get in!” Poseidon’s chariot came out of nowhere, pulled by his three magnificent white steeds, Riptide, Seaquake, and Crest. Poseidon’s sun-bleached hair and beard were dry and blowing in the wind against his bronze face, his blue-green eyes scrutinizing them. “What are you waiting for, kids? Get in!”

Than helped Therese into the chariot, and before they had fully sat in the seat beside Poseidon, they were whipped from Lemon Reservoir into the summer sky.

The wind hit Therese’s face and stung her now watery eyes. She looked back to see all three Furies following them. Meg and
Tizzie were joined by their red-headed sister, Alecto. They were flying through the sky in Hades’s chariot, pulled by his two black stallions, Swift and Sure.

Poseidon slapped the backs of his white steeds. “Faster!” he called.

This can’t be happening, Therese thought, clinging to Than. The Furies would never reveal themselves to Jen. She gave Than a dubious look. He smiled and kissed her.

Her heart sank in her chest as they soared above the clouds. “
Than,” she said in his ear. “Tell me this is real!” Despite the threat of the Furies on their tail, she would rather this all be real and her be sitting beside the love of her life than the alternative.

He took her face in his hands and kissed her. She kissed him back longingly. Without letting go of the kiss, she realized the chariot was plummeting, falling back to the earth, to the sea. What sea?

“I wish you’d kiss
me
like that,” Hip, Than’s brother, the god of sleep, said beside her. He had taken Poseidon’s reins.

Therese looked at Hip. “What happened to Poseidon?”

“You mean the ugly figment you mistook for Poseidon?”

“No, Hip!” Therese shouted. “This isn’t a dream!” She wrapped her arms around
Than and buried her face in his fine chest.

“You’ve gotten better and better at believing in them over these last ten months,” Hip said.

“What do you care?” Therese hissed.

“You know the answer to that,” Hip said.

“Leave us alone,” Than said.

“Shut your figment up,” Hip said to Therese.

“He’s no figment!”

Hip took out a hand-held mirror and put it up to the three of them. Only two faces gazed back.
Than’s was invisible.

Therese looked at
Than with astonishment. He looked real when she wasn’t staring at his absent reflection. He smiled at her, but now that Therese knew for certain he was a disgusting figment, she couldn’t bring herself to smile back or to lean in at his attempt to kiss her.

“Figment!” she cried. “I command you to show yourself!”

Than disappeared, and in his place was the laughing eel-like creature. It flitted in the air around them and then flew away. She looked back to see the figments that had once been Furies twirl and sail away, laughing at her.

Therese moaned. “When will he come for me, Hip?”

Hip brushed a strand of his blond wavy hair behind his ear and then pulled back on the reins. He looked a lot like his fraternal twin brother: same awesome golden body and gorgeous blue eyes; but whereas Hip’s hair was blond, Than’s was dark brown, almost black. Therese had been tempted more than once to give in to Hip’s jealous demands for affection. Hip was a womanizer who visited many girls at night in their dreams and had his way with them. Therese had managed to keep him at bay in her own dreams, but it wasn’t always easy. He was good at seduction.

“I don’t think he ever will,” Hip said, pulling hard on the reins but unable to slow the steeds. “It’s not his place. He’s got a job to do.”

“It’s not fair,” she complained.

“Life isn’t fair,” Hip smiled. “Only death is. Ask my father. That’s his favorite line.”

Therese wiped the tears from her eyes and choked down a sob. “You could take me to him,” she said with an accusing tone as they continued to plummet toward the sea. “You know you could.”

“I’ve promised him I wouldn’t,” Hip said. “It would kill you. You already know that. In fact, this conversation is beginning to sound like a scratched up CD that skips back to the same spot.”

“Just take me for a moment. I’ll leave before I get too weak. Take me once and we’ll never talk about this again.”

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
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