The Gatekeeper's Challenge (3 page)

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
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“She’s coming to the meet,” Therese said. “She’s coming to support us. She knows how badly I want to beat Lacey
Holzmann at breaststroke.”

“You should invite her,” Pete said. “She’s a nice girl.”

“Yeah. If my aunt says I can go, I’ll give Vicki a ring tonight.”

Pete patted Therese’s thigh. “Good call.”

A slight tingle pulsed up her leg. Pete’s strong hand felt good, and despite her nightly rants to Than, Than hadn’t contacted her in over ten months. She smiled up at Pete.

“It’s not like you’re inviting her to prom.” Pete laughed.

Prom. She hadn’t thought about that, but her junior prom would be coming up this school year in the spring. She knew Pete would go with her if she asked. Should she? Should she really give up on Than?

In fact, Therese couldn’t help but suspect Pete had decided not to go to college so he could remain close to her. If Cupid hadn’t shot his arrow in Pete’s heart, he might be at Colorado State right now. However, Hip did say the arrow only made stronger a feeling already present. How much of Pete’s affection for her
was real? And if much of it was because of the interference of the gods, did she owe it to Pete to give in to his desires?

Pete pulled into the Durango High Natatorium where a bunch of other cars were already parked. “I’m
gonna run some errands. When do I need to be back?”

“Eleven,” Jen said as she climbed from the seat. “But it’s no big deal if you run late. We can grab a bite at the Subway next door while we wait.”

“I’ll just meet y’all at Subway, then,” Pete said.

Therese climbed from the seat and said thanks before closing Pete’s truck door. Gina Rizzo was climbing from her Mustang convertible at the same time. Her hair was wrapped into a pretty, neat bun at the nape of her neck, blonde ringlets here and there near her face. Even without makeup, Gina was beautiful—until she spoke. Therese lowered her eyes to avoid her, but it was too late. Gina had seen her and had now caught up to her and Jen.

“Hey, Therese. Hey Jen,” she said in a friendly voice. “I heard Lacey’s breaststroke has improved by over two seconds since last year. Her cousin is friends with my little sister, you know.”

“That’s great,” Jen said. “Lacey will need those seconds if she wants to come in second to Therese.”

Therese gave Jen a grateful glance behind Gina’s back.

“Dream on,” Gina said in her snotty voice.

They went through the glass doors and into the humid building. Gina skipped ahead of them to avoid whatever Jen would say next.

“Chicken shit,’ Jen muttered.

When they were away from the other teammates in the locker room putting their things in their lockers before practice, Jen said, “Speaking of prom, Matthew and I are definitely going. I haven’t gone shopping for the dress, but I’ve already found the shoes. They’re to die for. You
going to ask Pete, aren’t you?”

it’s months away. I haven’t given it much thought.”

“Well, start giving it some. You can’t start shopping too soon.”

“Some tomboy you turned out to be.”

“Just ‘
cause I’m good on a horse doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate pretty stiletto heels.”

Therese grabbed her towel from her bag and shut her locker door. “Can you even walk in them?”

“I’ve been practicing.”

Therese smiled at the image and wondered if Jen wore the invisibility crown while she practiced so no one would laugh at her. It had to be funny.

They left the locker room together and went to the poolside, where their coach had gathered the rest of their team. Paul caught Therese’s eye and licked his lips in an attempt to be sexy. She shuddered. When would he ever get a clue?

Therese was relieved Jen hadn’t asked again about
Than. For months, she’d say, “Any word from Than?” and Therese’s face would turn the color of tomato soup, she’d stop breathing, and she’d nearly faint. She was glad not to have to admit she still hadn’t heard anything from the supposed love of her life. She had wanted to lie to her best friend and say, yes, we email all the time, or, I got a letter this afternoon, or, he texted me from Texas yesterday. But she knew her friend would see right through her and know the truth.

The water actually felt good as she warmed up with freestyle. She hadn’t come all week—it was Thursday—and she had forgotten how therapeutic it could be. After two laps of freestyle, she switched to back, and then fly, saving her favorite stroke for last. As she swam, she thought of Poseidon’s appearance in her dream. It hadn’t really been Poseidon, but still, she thought of him. She recalled the ride he had given her on his dolphin,
Arion, last summer when he had reluctantly taken her as his prisoner, and then after, on his really cool chariot. “Oh, Poseidon,” she prayed silently. “Why won’t Thanatos come for me? Should I just go on with my life?”

As if in answer, when she reached the edge of the pool at the end of her twenty-minute warm up and looked up, she saw Pete gazing down at her. “I finished early and thought I’d hang out.” He left the poolside and walked over to the stands a few yards away. He looked good in his jeans. He glanced back and caught her watching. She blushed and turned away, but not before catching his wink.

Luckily, the coach called everyone over and lined them up for drills, and she no longer had the luxury—or curse—of thinking.

























Chapter Four: Aphrodite’s Message


“You can’t go like that,” Hermes stopped
Than before he could god travel to Mount Olympus to answer Aphrodite’s summons. “I’m to take your place so you can go in mortal form. She’ll meet you at the Café Moulan in Paris near the Louvre. No one’s to know of this, not even your father.”

gave him a grave nod, shook Hermes’s hand, and left his position as god of the dead for his rendezvous in Paris, hoping he wouldn’t be caught by Hades. His relationship with his father was already strained by the events that took place on Mount Olympus last summer when Therese failed to follow through on her end of the deal she and Hades made with the other gods. Not that Than blamed her. Her compassion for others made her more, not less, desirable to him.

He had forgotten, as he walked the street in Paris, how exhilarating it felt being in mortal form. He could smell the bakery on the corner, feel the sun on his back, and hear the cars passing by and the voices and music carrying out from the shops and cafes with much more intensity than he did as a god, and again he wondered if the lower one went down the animal kingdom, the more intense sensory perceptions became. He wished he could leave his office and join Therese as a man. Life could be so good here on earth with her. But it wasn’t to be.

Even in mortal form, Aphrodite was beautiful, though he disagreed that beauty trumped all. As beautiful as Therese was, she couldn’t rival a goddess; but it was the whole package that made him love her.

“Please sit,” Aphrodite motioned to the chair across from her on the outdoor patio of Café
Moulan. She wore a scarf around her head like a hood, whether to protect her face from the afternoon sun or to conceal her identity from others, Than wasn’t sure.

“It’s good to see you,” Than said. “You have some news, I hope?”

“Wine?” She pointed to a glass she had already ordered for him.

Although he had some wine in his rooms, sent to him from Dionysus, he rarely drank. His job required him to have full control of his faculties at all times. He took a sip and closed his eyes.

Aphrodite smiled. “You like?”

Mmmm.” He sipped again. “Yes.”

Aphrodite surreptitiously glanced around the patio and then leaned across the table. “Swear on the
River Styx you won’t tell a soul what I’m about to tell you.”

returned the glass to the table and lifted his head with surprise. All humor left him as he looked at Aphrodite with wide eyes. “I swear.” He felt a mixture of dread and hope as he leaned closer to the goddess to hear what she had to say. Rarely was he asked to take an oath, so he knew this must be important. He hoped it had something to do with a way of making Therese his bride.

“Do you know who’s responsible for making wine?”

This question confused Than, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he couldn’t fathom how it required such a serious oath. “Dionysus.”

“And what do you know of him?”

“He enjoys life. His philosophy is to seize the day and live to the fullest. Wine, good food, dancing, and such are his favorite pastimes, right?”

Aphrodite nodded.
“Anything else?”

“He controls the maenads—the wild, frenzied women who tear people’s bodies apart. They ripped poor Orpheus to pieces before my
eyes. They did leave me a parting gift, though. I have a beautiful sea shell like no other in my room. I also have bottles of his wine, sent to me through Hermes. I’ve never met him in person, though.”

“Do you know nothing more?”

Than shook his head.

“His father?”

“Zeus, I think. Or Hermes? I don’t recall.”

She took a sip of her wine and then said, “There’s a reason you don’t.”

He leaned closer. “What do you mean?” Had someone put a spell on him?

“The genealogy of Dionysus has been confused for centuries. He is indeed Zeus’s son, born of a mortal woman named

“But how…”

“Not a demigod, I know. Because he was born again of Zeus alone.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Hera got wind of the affair and tricked Semele into asking Zeus to swear to grant her a wish. He swore on the River Styx. But her request was to see him in his full godly form, which as you know, is too bright for human eyes. But he had sworn, so even though he knew it would kill her, he showed himself to her.”

“How awful.”

“Indeed.” She took another sip of her wine. “As Semele died, she gave birth prematurely to Dionysus. Zeus cut a hole in his thigh and placed the unformed infant there, stitching him in until he was ready to be born. Because Dionysus was later born solely to Zeus, immortality was conferred onto him.”

“But I thought Dionysus’s mother was also immortal. Is that a lie?”

Aphrodite shook her head. “He went back to the Underworld, this was back in Hermes’s day, when he used to ferry the dead, when you and Hip were still too young.”

“What does all of this have to do with me?”

“Because Dionysus spends his time partying in the mountains with the maenads and the nymphs and the satyrs, many people, and even some gods, think he’s this lesser goat-like god who has very little power and authority on Mount Olympus.”

“But that’s not true?”

“No.” Aphrodite glanced around the café. Then her eyes fell on something across the patio. “Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Ares. He’s looking for me. We have an apartment here in Paris. I didn’t know where else to meet you. Let’s leave before he discovers us talking. There’s too many around for god travel. Follow me.”

Than followed her from the patio to a lime green Lamborghini parked a block away—not exactly inconspicuous.

“Get in.”

He climbed inside behind the wheel.

“Drive!” Aphrodite commanded.

Than gaped.
He had no idea how. “I’ve never driven a car before.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Tell me when I would have the time. You others have no idea what kind of life I lead.”

“Switch places with me.” They vanished and reappeared in the opposite seats. Aphrodite turned the key in the ignition and pulled the car away from the curb, causing him to fall back and shriek. “Strap yourself in!”

Than looked around and fumbled with the harness as Aphrodite darted past cars, coming close to crashing several times. He wasn’t afraid of death—he was death, after all—but he was afraid of extreme pain, something he’d only experienced a few times in his long life.

“Pull over!” he shouted.

“Hold on!” She made a sharp turn and led him down an alley, where she slowed down the car and came to a stop. “I think I lost him, but we have to make this quick. He’ll soon trace my scent.”

“You were saying Dionysus is a more formidable god than most realize.”

“Exactly. People confuse him with Pan, and rightly so, because Pan doesn’t exist.”

Than searched Aphrodite’s profile for signs of mockery. “Are you kidding? How can that be?”

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
9.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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