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       Shift (Hearts and Arrows Book 2), p.1

           Staci Hart
 
Shift (Hearts and Arrows Book 2)


  Table of Contents

  Title

  Copyright

  More Books by Staci Hart

  A crawling beast

  Day 1

  Day 2

  Day 3

  Day 4

  Day 5

  Day 6

  Day 7

  Day 8

  Day 9

  Day 10

  Day 11

  Day 12

  Day 13

  Day 14

  Day 15

  Day 16

  Acknowledgments

  Also by Staci Brillhart

  About the Author

  Shift

  Staci Brillhart

  Contents

  Title

  Copyright

  More Books by Staci Hart

  A crawling beast

  1. Day 1

  2. Day 2

  3. Day 3

  4. Day 4

  5. Day 5

  6. Day 6

  7. Day 7

  8. Day 8

  9. Day 9

  10. Day 10

  11. Day 11

  12. Day 12

  13. Day 13

  14. Day 14

  15. Day 15

  16. Day 16

  Acknowledgments

  Also by Staci Brillhart

  About the Author

  Copyright © 2013, 2017 Staci Hart

  All rights reserved.

  stacihartnovels.com

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  Cover design by Quirky Bird

  Photography by Perrywinkle Photography

  Editing by Unforeseen Editing and Love N Books

  Extra With A Twist Goodies

  Playlist

  Pin Board

  More Books by Staci Hart

  Hearts and Arrows

  Deer in Headlights (Book 1)

  Snake in the Grass (Book 2)

  What the Heart Wants (Novella 2.5)

  Doe Eyes (Book 3)

  Fool’s Gold (Novella 3.5)

  Hearts and Arrows Box Set

  Hardcore

  With a Twist (Bad Habits)

  Chaser (Bad Habits)

  Last Call (Bad Habits)

  Wasted Words

  Tonic

  A Thousand Letters - Feb 2017

  Short Stories

  Once

  Desperate Measures

  Sign up for the newsletter to receive a FREE copy of Desperate Measures, a ridiculous zombie romcom!

  To those who have known

  love that hurts.

  Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me

  bittersweet,

  irresistible,

  a crawling beast.

  -Sappho

  Day 1

  The city stretched up like quartz against the fading sunlight, the colors of the sky deepening with every second that slipped by. Ares’s eyes were on the horizon, slashed with the darkening skyscrapers at the southern tip of Manhattan, but his mind was a thousand years behind him, and her face filled the space in between.

  They were Mars and Venus. Man and woman. Ares and Aphrodite. The bond between them was unbreakable, undeniable, no matter how she had tried to reject it, tried to stay away. She’d never quite succeeded. She never would.

  Even the gods could not betray the will of the stars.

  It had been a hundred years since she warmed his bed, a hundred years of waiting for her. Now they would compete again in a game that mattered little to him. His prize was far greater than a token to be paid for a favor — he wanted her. And for the first time in a very long time, he had a chance to keep her.

  Adonis had been in the way far too long — even murdering the human hadn’t removed him from the equation — but now the ground had shifted, tilted in Ares’s favor, and with Aphrodite’s footing unsteady, she would fall.

  He would catch her.

  This time, he wouldn’t let go.

  Ares had already chosen his human player, and soon he would make his way down to the throng of gods who waited for the game to begin. She would be there. She would make her choice, and the fire between them would ignite as it always did — first with a spark, then a flicker. Then, she would be consumed, and so would he.

  It would be the same as it ever was, and he was so starved for her, his body tensed from head to heart to heel in anticipation of what was to come.

  From a hundred years down to a few days, the distance traveled worth every second of longing, and with every moment that passed, the stars moved closer to alignment and to his favor. And there was nothing she could do to fight it.

  He’d see to that.

  Aphrodite sank into her velvet couch with a sigh as she and Persephone looked in on Lex and Dean. He sat bent over his guitar, plucking and strumming a tune, pausing occasionally to jot down lyrics in his notebook as Lex watched on sketching, her hand moving with certainty as she composed his likeness with a series of lines, complex in their simplicity. He looked over at her and smiled, abandoning his guitar to climb onto the couch with her, taking her face with his hands, capturing her lips with his own.

  Perry let out a sigh of her own. “I’m going to miss them.”

  “Me too,” Dita said. “But they got their happy ending.”

  “And Apollo too,” Perry added.

  “Apollo’s happy ending might have been the most satisfying part of all. Even though there were repercussions.” Dita squirmed, thinking about Adonis.

  “Adonis still hasn’t shown up?” Perry asked, reading her mind.

  Dita shook her head. “It’s been weeks. I go to Elysium every night in my dreams, but he’s never there. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose. He’s angry. I get it.”

  “Apollo killed him,” Perry said flatly. “You’d be pissed too.”

  “He believes Apollo killed him. But you know just as well as I do that Apollo doesn’t do revenge killings. I know what Apollo says, but I also know better than to believe all I hear. Especially when it comes to Ares. He can deny his involvement all he wants, but my gut says something isn’t what it seems. Not that it matters to Adonis.”

  “Well, Adonis never was one for reason.”

  Dita chuffed. “No, he wasn’t. But still, I’m holding out hope that he comes around. He just needs time.”

  “I hope so. Are you ready to compete with Ares?”

  “Not really.” Dita sighed again, this time to relieve the bit of pressure squeezing her ribs at the thought of Ares anything. “Lex and Dean were fun — Apollo always picks the best players — but this is going to be stressful. Ares’s types aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows.”

  “More like napalm and cigarettes.” Perry pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them. “What kind of player do you think he’ll choose?”

  “Probably some asshole with a huge chip on his shoulder. They stick with what they know.”

  A dry laugh burst out of Perry.

  “He’ll pick someone fucked up, and I’ll have to pick someone equally fucked up. It’s vicious. But it’ll all work out. I’ve got my ass-kicking boots laced tight and my Girl Power playlist locked and loaded. Plus, when do I ever lose?”

  “Never.” But Perry seemed unconvinced, watching Dita with big hazel eyes. “You’re going to sleep with Ares, aren’t you?”

  “I don’t want to, but my Adonis buffer is gone,” Dita admitted. “And Ares … what exists between us is bigger than I
can control. It’s instinctive, compulsive.”

  Perry’s lips drew together like purse strings. “Ares is a douchelord, and I hate him.”

  “Part of me does too. But it’s more complicated than that. I love him, but I also want to blow him into a billion pieces.”

  Perry chuckled. “I bet you do.”

  Dita rolled her eyes. “We have children, history, a bond. And when we compete?” She laughed at the futility of it all. “We both want to win, which only stokes the fire between us. It’s always been this way. I don’t know how to stay away from him, Perry.”

  She shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe Heff will make you an extra-special, fancy vibrator.”

  A laugh shot out of Dita. “That conversation wouldn’t be awkward at all.”

  “Something tells me Heff would rather make you a magical vibe than see you hook up with Ares.”

  “True,” Dita admitted. “But maybe I can find a way to hold out. Maybe Adonis will come back to me.” The words were tinged with hope.

  But Perry’s eyes were sad. “Maybe he will.”

  The string that connected the gods was plucked, tugging on Dita’s heart, and the goddesses met eyes.

  “It’s time,” Perry said solemnly.

  “Bring on the pain.”

  The goddesses headed down to the common area of Olympus, which was modeled after a high-end New York high-rise. The living room and kitchen were empty of gods, but as they approached the theater room, the hum of chatter rose to greet them. And when Perry and Dita walked in, faces turned to look — some whooping and clapping, others narrowing their eyes.

  Apollo waved them over to the front row where he’d saved a few seats, and Daphne beamed at them from Apollo’s side as they approached.

  Ares walked in just behind them, and she felt his presence like an electric charge, raising the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck. His body called to hers without speaking a word, and she found herself watching him as he sauntered up to Hermes, head of the games, who stood next to the ninety-inch screen.

  Ares caught her gaze and held it, his blue eyes pinning her down, the set of his square jaw determined and his shoulders broad enough to carry the weight of a thousand years.

  He broke the connection, releasing her, and she tucked her legs in, leaning closer to Perry, as if her friend could save her from the inevitable.

  She searched for her composure, and once she grabbed hold, she hoisted it up like an anchor.

  Hermes huffed impatiently, though he wore an impish smile. “Ares, good of you to join us. You’ve finally decided on a player? Was a month not enough to figure it out? Or do you just enjoy making us wait?”

  Ares’s eyes narrowed, and the hinge of his jaw jumped. “You’ll wait as long as I wish, Herpes.”

  Hermes was unfazed. “Inspired insult, really. Truly original. I do hope you didn’t sprain anything composing it.”

  Ares snatched the remote from Hermes’s hand, arching over him. “I’m good.”

  When he clicked on the television, the scene on the screen was frozen. Two bloodied men stood in a makeshift boxing ring, the bright lights around them reflecting off their glistening bare chests. The crowd around them expressed a variety of emotions — from screaming to laughing to fists in the air or heads in hands.

  The bigger of the two men was a brutish redhead wearing a sneer that framed bloody teeth. His taped fist was inches away from the face of his opponent — a blond with a tattoo of a snake curling around his biceps and down to his forearm, poised to strike. The blond fighter’s eyes flickered with the realization that he couldn’t stop what was about to happen.

  A laugh shot out of Dita. “Please tell me your player is the guy about to get punched in the face.”

  Ares scowled and hit play, and the entire room flinched at the smack of skin on skin.

  Dillon saw stars.

  Tiny bursts flashed behind his eyelids, and the sound of the crowd around him disappeared behind the ringing in his ears from the impact of the blow. MacFayden bounced around Dillon, but Dillon kept his fists up, shaking his head to clear it as his sight dimmed and brightened with his pulse. But he never stopped tracking MacFayden, his other senses dialed up as he blinked back disorientation.

  He felt the movement first, the smallest tremor of air and atoms touching his nerves, and he ducked instinctively. MacFayden’s big arm swept over Dillon’s head, but Dillon kept moving, raising up with a hook that slammed into MacFayden’s ribs. The beast let out an oof, spraying spit and blood in an arch.

  And then Dillon had his footing.

  He locked onto MacFayden, feeling the shift of power, filling him with determination. Time slowed. He hooked the giant in the jaw, then the ribs, then the nose to the sound of percussive smacks that fueled him, spurred him on and on.

  MacFayden staggered from the blow to his nose, joggling his head and listing just before his legs gave out, and he crumpled to the ground. Dillon stalked around him, pinning him down with his eyes, silently daring him to get back up.

  The closest the man got was rolling over to spit out a gob of blood, but when he tried to pick himself up, he failed, landing on his back.

  Even then Dillon couldn’t break the connection, pacing around MacFayden like a cat, coiled like a spring. All he could hear was his rushing blood and heavy breath. All he could see was a challenger, a task to end. It wasn’t until the ref grabbed his hand and lifted it into the air that the noise of the spectators slowly made its way into the quiet of his mind, and when the crowd exploded, he threw his free fist up.

  Only then did it begin to end. The bloodlust. The fever. The rage. And the loss left him empty.

  His manager — and one of his closest friends — Brian ducked between the ropes with a towel and water as MacFayden’s crew came to his aid, but Dillon was still far away as he took the offered water bottle and poured it into his mouth, over his face. He scrubbed a hand across it before spitting a mouthful of blood-tinged water onto the floor.

  Brian guided him out of the ring and through the faceless mob. Only distantly did Dillon register the claps on the backs, the hands of strangers against his steaming skin. His name drifted to his ears from what felt like miles away, his body humming like an engine as people pressed in on him from all sides.

  The back of the warehouse was silent. Dillon made his way to a stack of pallets where he’d left his bag, and as Brian chattered around him, he unwound the wraps on his hands and wrists, packing them away.

  “Did you hear me?” Brian asked, only a little impatient.

  When Dillon turned, Brian’s hand was extended, offering him his shirt.

  “Sorry.” Dillon took it and pulled it on.

  “MacLennan’s tonight, after you get cleaned up. You’ll be there, right?” Brian’s heavy brows were low, and the question was heavy with implication.

  With a sigh, Dillon stuffed his leather jacket into his bag

  If he hadn’t known Brian since high school, he’d never agree. If Brian hadn’t seen him through the hardest times in his life, he’d refuse. Because he didn’t want to go to the bar. He never wanted to go. A hundred people would be there from the fight, all watching him, all wanting a piece, however big or small they could manage.

  When he was in the ring, he didn’t even know they were there. Outside the ring, there was nowhere to hide.

  He grabbed his bag and hung it over his shoulder as he headed for the back door. “Do I have a choice?”

  “Not really.” Brian smirked, folding his meaty arms across his broad chest, a bulldog in every sense of the word.

  Dillon leaned against the door, pushing it open. “Then I’ll be there.”

  Brian’s shoulders relaxed. “I’ll settle everything here and meet you at the bar.”

  Dillon nodded and stepped outside, welcoming the cool winter air that sharpened his edge even more.

  Warehouses stood in the silence all around him, watching him, listening to his footfalls echoing from their walls. His shin
y black GTO waited there between them, offering solitude, even if just for a moment. Dillon popped the trunk to throw his bag inside and closed it with a thump in an automatic motion. When he slipped into the driver’s seat, the blood-red leather creaked under him, then again as he leaned forward to slip the key into the ignition.

  His car thundered to life around him, and he gripped the trembling wheel with bloodied, swollen hands. In a few hours, he’d feel like shit. Until then, he would drive the adrenaline off.

  He took the back streets for the sake of his accelerator, appreciating every moment a red light turned green, reveling in the feel as his engine climbed, savoring every corner he could take a little too fast.

  There was something to be said for the feeling of controlling something powerful, of taming something dangerous.

  By the time he pulled into the alley behind his brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, he was a little more himself, though the ache of his fingers and muscles rose a closer to the surface with every heartbeat. The sound of his engine rumbled deeper when he pulled in the alley; it tried to contain the thundering and failed.

  His garage was a necessary expense — a stupid expense, but a necessary one — and once he pulled in and killed the engine, he closed the heavy metal door and shut the evening out behind him.

  Weariness sounded with every stair-step, the heaviness of his boots demanding his attention with every footfall. But none of that mattered when he found his brother, Owen, on their L-shaped leather couch, book in hand.

  He was the reason for everything.

  Owen’s dark hair was swept back from his face, which was long and boyish and full of hope that Dillon had lost long before. His brows rose at the sight of his older brother. Judging by his expression, Dillon figured he looked like shit.

 
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