Paper Fools (Hearts and Arrows Book 1), p.1Staci Hart
Hearts & Arrows, Book One
1. Day One
2. Day Two
3. Day Three
4. Day Four
5. Day Five
6. Day Six
7. Day Seven
8. Day Eight
9. Day Nine
10. Day Ten
11. Day Eleven
12. Day Twelve
13. Day Thirteen
14. Day Fourteen
15. Day Fifteen
16. Day Sixteen
17. Day Seventeen
18. Day Eighteen
19. Day Nineteen
20. Day Twenty
21. Day Twenty-One
22. Day Twenty-Two
About the Author
By Staci Hart
Copyright © 2013-2017 Staci Hart
All rights reserved.
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. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover by Quirky Bird
Editor: Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing, www.unforeseenediting.com
Proofreading: Rebecca Slemons
Pin Board: http://bit.ly/2n6Emtl
HEARTS AND ARROWS
With a Twist
A Thousand Letters
Sign up for the newsletter to receive a FREE copy of Desperate Measures!
To my grandmother. Your lust for life, grit, and determination made me who I am, and I miss you every day.
The tender spring upon thy tempting lip
Shows thee unripe; yet mayst thou well be tasted:
Make use of time, let not advantage slip;
Beauty within itself should not be wasted:
Fair flowers that are not gather'd in their prime
Rot and consume themselves in little time.
—William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis
The sun broke over the hills, a golden burst that sent a shot of pain through her heart, marking the end.
Knowing it was time, he turned to her, sadness lining his face as the light illuminated his golden hair like a halo, and she stepped into his arms.
Even after thousands of years, it never got easier to say goodbye.
He held her close — she memorized the moment, the scent of grass and earth, the feel of his arms around her — and he pressed his lips to her ear.
“I love you,” he whispered, the words true and sweet and painful.
She leaned back to kiss him, but before she hit her mark, “Dancing Queen” played from nowhere, echoing off the hills around them.
Aphrodite frowned. “Son of a—”
Her eyes flew open, and she found herself in her room with her alarm blaring Swedish pop music.
As she frantically slapped at her phone to make the horror stop, she cursed Persephone, the dream crusher. Perry was the only person demented enough to wake her up with ABBA.
Her heart chugged against her ribs from the jolt of waking out of that particular dream, and she curled back up in bed, clutching her pillow to her chest as she closed her eyes, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep. But the gears of her mind began to grind, her thoughts fixated on him. She’d never stop missing him — if eons hadn’t made it easier, she didn’t know what would.
It wasn’t long before she knew trying to sleep was no use. She was awake. Dream gone in a poof.
With a sigh, she grabbed a handful of her comforter and flung it off, peeling herself out of bed to shuffle into the bathroom.
Aphrodite, goddess of love, had lived thousands of years, had hundreds of lovers, and made millions of love matches. She had seen the world through feast and famine, through war and peace. From ancient Greece and Rome to castles in France and Britain, she’d lived all over the world and seen it all — through corsets and knickers, flapper dresses and polyester, big hair and blue eye shadow.
But she’d never enjoyed a time as much as the present.
Dita — the nickname she’d gone by since the mid-nineteenth century — yawned and leaned over the sink, inspecting her bleary reflection. Her hair was a mess, a ratty blond mess that she frowned at, twisting it into a side braid, which was better than nothing.
A tiny weight sat on her foot, and she smiled down at Bisoux, her mini Pomeranian. His copper head quirked and dark eyes peered up at her, and she scooped him up, nestling him in her neck, murmuring to him in French as she made her way to the living room. He was an automaton made by Hephaestus, an inventor, made to look exactly like a living dog, sans excrement and death, perfect for an immortal goddess with no yard.
The elevator dinged just as she dropped into a velvet armchair, and Dita turned to find Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, walking through her foyer in black leggings, a purple V-neck, and hot pink socks.
“Morning,” she said with a smile, her big, dark eyes twinkling as she plopped down on the couch and propped her feet on the arm.
“Nice alarm,” Dita shot playfully.
Her smile stretched into a smirk. “I know how much you love ABBA.”
“I’ll never forgive Apollo for those Swedish harpies.” Dita made a face. “Come up here to gloat?”
“So bitter,” she tsked, reaching for Bisoux. “I’m sure you’ll get me back. And yes, I came up here to gloat, but also because I’m ninety-nine percent sure something is about to happen.”
Dita cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, so you’re psychic today? Tell me, Persephone, mistress of the dark,” she said with a dramatic flair, “what do you see when you look into the future?”
“Hey, don’t dog my title.” Perry threw a throw pillow at her.
Dita laughed and batted the pillow away. “Will you dress up like Elvira for me? Please?” she whined.
“My boobs would never do that, and we both know it. Anyway, focus. Do you feel it?”
Dita thought for a second — there it was, just under her heart, a tug at the thread that connected the gods in Olympus. “Do you think it’s the end of another competition?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Hephaestus and Ares have been going at it for a long time.”
“Yeah, and that’s not awkward at all.”
Perry smirked. “Your husband versus your lover?”
Dita picked non-existent lint off her couch. “Estranged on both counts, thank you very much. Anyway, it’s not like they need a reason to compete against each other. They’ve been fighting for eons, and the games have nothing to do with it.”
“True.” Perry recrossed her ankles and pushed her black Buddy Holly glasses up her nose. “You realize you’re up next, right?”
“Yes, and winning,” Dita said with a smile.
Perry’s stomach growled so loud that Bisoux jumped, and her pale skin flushed as her lip slipped between her teeth. “I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry.” Dita stood, laughing, and when Perry joined her, they locked arms and made for the elevator with Bisoux hooked in Perry’s arm.
They stepped into the elevator, and Dita hit the lobby button, thanking the stars that they didn’t still live in medieval times when Olympus had been fashioned after a cold, drafty castle with about a kabillion stairs.
Olympus existed in a dimension separate from humans, though the gods could visit Earth whenever they liked. For thousands of years, many gods and creatures had chosen to live on Earth, but nearly all of them had moved back. The world was too crowded, too connected to technology to afford them a safe place to stay out of sight.
The gods were, and had always been, obsessed with humans, adopting their style and culture as they influenced it. Both were passionate creatures, and although humans had worshipped the gods for eons, the gods almost worshipped them more. Olympus had forever been modeled after the most cosmopolitan architecture and culture of the time — at that moment, it was a luxury high-rise apartment building in New York City. They loved the city so much that every window and patio looked out over Manhattan.
When the elevator doors opened, the goddesses strutted into the kitchen where a handful of gods milled around. Zeus sat at the head of the table with a newspaper, clearly trying to ignore everyone. Hera, his wife, shuffled around the kitchen like a zombie with giant pink rollers in her blond hair, wearing a silk robe printed with peacock feathers. She carried a cup of coffee to the table and sat down next to Zeus, yawning.
Hephaestus sat at the large kitchen island, leaning over a plate of fried eggs and toast, his broad shoulders wrapped in a thick navy blue knit sweater. He looked over at Aphrodite as she walked in and gave her a warm smile, his cheeks flushing when she smiled back.
Perry sat next to Hades at the island, planting a kiss on his cheek as she set Bisoux on the counter. Hades’s eyes were dark and bottomless, his black hair neatly combed — he smiled down at her as he pushed a plate of cupcakes in her direction. Perry bounced in her seat, and he smoothed his tie, looking pleased with himself.
Nothing made Hades happier than seeing his wife happy, probably because she hadn’t always been so easy to please.
Dita walked around the bar and to the gigantic fridge, pulling the door open. The cool air hit her cheeks, and a comforting hum greeted her as she scanned the shelves for breakfast. Loaves of honey-colored glop sat on white dishes, lined up like gooey little soldiers. She grabbed a plate of ambrosia and turned to the door where she picked up a bottle of nectar, the golden liquid so rich that it was almost luminescent. As she turned around, she kicked the door closed with a soft thunk and set her haul down on the counter.
Nectar of the gods. Har-har.
Both nectar and ambrosia tasted like greasy ass. They were seriously, absolutely, and completely revolting. None of the gods consumed it in its pure form. Instead, they used their powers to make it look and taste like something more appealing.
The only beings who ingested either substance in its natural state were humans granted immortality. It was a running joke with the gods, who found it amusing to watch them try to choke it down, all while attempting to convince the Olympians that it actually tasted good.
Oh Gods, thank you for this delectable gift! (gag) No wonder it is only allowed for the gods, for only upon them should such a savory gift be bestowed! (gag)
She plated a slice of ambrosia and poured the nectar into a coffee mug with a giant heart on it. When she closed her eyes, her hair stirred from a soft breeze swirled carrying the scent of roses, and when they opened, her mug contained steaming coffee, and her plate of nasty-loaf had been transformed into a heaping pile of hot bacon and eggs.
Dita picked up her breakfast and walked over to the bar where she sat next to Perry.
A solitary eyebrow inched up Perry’s forehead. “Your lust for meat never ceases to amaze me.”
“Don’t you judge me, cupcake whore,” Dita said around a mouthful of bacon, nodding to Perry’s plate.
Bisoux trotted across the counter and sat expectantly in front of Dita. She handed him a strip of bacon, and he laid it down, holding it with his furry paws to tear a piece off. He ran on ambrosia, and bacon-flavored was his favorite.
“Morning.” Ares swaggered in and snatched a piece of bacon from Dita’s plate, winking at her as he took a bite and walked around the island.
Bisoux bared his tiny teeth, wrinkling his nose as a growl rumbled through him.
Every once in a while, Dita wondered what she saw in the God of War. She’d been addicted to him since he’d come of age, no matter how much of an asshole he was, no matter how douchey he behaved. But as she scanned his body — his T-shirt stretched across his wide chest and bulging arms, the hard cut of his jaw, the line of his heavy brow, his narrow hips and sweet, sweet ass — she remembered.
He was a demon in the sack.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hephaestus tense. Every meal with the three of them was like an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.
“Heff,” Ares said in lieu of a greeting, leaning on the counter across from Hephaestus with a hotshot smile plastered all over his jerk face. “I think it’s about time to pay up, don’t you?” He tossed the bacon into his mouth.
“The game isn’t over yet. The alarm hasn’t sounded.” Heff gestured to the alarm standing in the corner of the room. White-hot lava rolled around in the glass column of the device, as it had since their competition began.
The gods were eternally bored and constantly bickering, so Zeus had come up with a game to apply their antagonism to something constructive. They’d been playing for thousands upon thousands of years, one god against another, using humans as their game pieces. Heff and Ares had been going at it since the seventies when Heff chose Apple and Ares picked Microsoft.
“Listen,” Ares said, “there’s no way Apple can win now that Jobs took the long ride down the Styx.”
Heff smirked, narrowing his eyes at Ares. “Funny — pretty much every stock report would disagree. And if Windows 8 was any indicator, Microsoft is headed the way of the dinosaurs.” He twiddled his fingers at Ares with condescension.
Dita popped another piece of bacon into her mouth, silently watching the exchange along with everyone else in the room.
“Just give it up,” Ares said, goading Heff. “My guy won, and this challenge has been going on for too long. Jobs is gone, and things are never gonna be the same. Pay up.”
Apollo didn’t look up from the Horoscope section of the newspaper as he butted in.
“You should call it now, Ares, and save yourself the trouble of dragging it out. Apple’s about to take over the world. Trust me. They don’t call me the Oracle of Absolute Certainty for nothing.”
Apollo never lied, and his visions of the future were always bang on.
“No one calls you that,” Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister, said matter-of-factly before stuffing a spoonful of Cheerios into her mouth.
Apollo pouted as he uncrossed and recrossed his legs, shaking his newspaper out with a snap.
Ares fumed at the news, a flush creeping up his neck with every heartbeat as he weighed it out.
Heff knew he had Ares and pressed the opening. “Look, there’s no point in waiting any longer. Just save us all the trouble and give it up. Plus,” he said, his voice tightening, betraying his indifference, “Dita will be up next.”
Ares responded with a hot look in Dita’s direction. When they competed, it was almost impossible to stay away from each other.
“Fair enough,” Ares said, reachin
Heff grabbed it midair, looking all too satisfied as the alarm in the corner disappeared. Their game was over.
“So Dita’s on deck next?” Ares asked with a sinister smirk. He loved a good competition, preferably of the unfriendly variety. “Should be interesting.”
“When was the last time anyone beat her?” Perry asked, unwrapping another cupcake.
Hermes reached into his back pocket and pulled out his iPhone. “Hang on. I have an app for that.”
“Traitor,” murmured Ares.
Hermes ignored him. “No one has won against Dita in … three thousand one hundred twenty-seven years.” Hermes raised his eyebrows at her.
Dita gave a politely smug smile. She never lost.
The last of the Olympians straggled in and took seats at either the bar or the enormous table, sensing the beginning of a new competition. Zeus even put down his paper, though he still looked spectacularly bored. Vain Hera side-eyed the room as she fiddled with her curlers, hastily pulling them from her golden hair while attempting to look nonchalant.
Hermes, ever the showman, stood up and walked around the kitchen, his long legs pacing him through the crowd and his eyes twinkling on his narrow, handsome face.
“All right, gang, we’re going old-school rules, as usual. I’ll go ahead and restate them for Zeus since we all know how he loves the law.” He smiled at Zeus, who glared at him from across the room.
“Aphrodite will go toe-to-toe in a battle of wits against each of the twelve Olympians. She and her opponent will each choose a human player, and she’ll have to get them together before the clock runs out in four human weeks. Her challenger’s task — and a mighty one at that — will be to keep the humans apart.
Paper Fools (Hearts and Arrows Book 1) by Staci Hart / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes