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       Hearts and Arrows Box Set, p.1

           Staci Hart
 
Hearts and Arrows Box Set


  Copyright © 2015 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 by Quirky Bird

  TABLE OF CONTENTS

  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)

  More Books by Staci Hart

  Deer in Headlights (Hearts and Arrows 1)

  Snake in the Grass (Hearts and Arrows 2)

  What the Heart Wants (Hearts and Arrows 2.5 Novella)

  Doe Eyes (Hearts and Arrows 3)

  Fool’s Gold (Hearts and Arrows 3.5 Novella)

  Hearts and Arrows 4 - COMING 2015

  Once (FREE short story)

  Hardcore (Erotic Romantic Suspense Serials)

  Volume 1 - FREE

  Volume 2

  Volume

  Nighthawk (Nighthawk 1) - July 2016

  Want FREE erotic shorts? All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll get NAILED within minutes, right in the inbox.

  Find out more at StaciHartNovels.com

  Day 1

  SHE FOLLOWED HIM THROUGH THE tall grass of an open field, her outstretched fingertips brushing poppy petals as she walked past. The sun broke over the ridge of the mountains before her, bathing the valley in the soft glow of dawn, and he looked over his shoulder, reaching for her hand. She slipped her fingers into his, and he pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips into her hair.

  “I love you,” he whispered, and she closed her eyes.

  They flew open again when her iPod alarm blared “Dancing Queen,” and she reached over, blindly slapping at the dock’s off button.

  Perry, the dreamcrusher.

  Her best friend was the only person demented enough to wake her up with ABBA.

  Dita flumped back in bed and squeezed her eyes shut, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep as she mourned the loss of her dream, knowing she’d never stop missing him. Pain flashed through her chest like a comet, and she hugged the pillow closer, wishing she could drift away again, but it was no use. She was awake. With a sigh, she grabbed a handful of her comforter and flung it off.

  She breathed deep and slid off the bed, then padded into the bathroom, pausing at the counter when she caught her reflection in the mirror.

  Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, had lived for thousands of years, had hundreds of lovers, and made millions of love matches. She had seen the world through feast and through famine, through war and through peace. She had loved and lost, but always endured. 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 period as much as the one she was in.

  Dita fluffed her long, blond hair as she leaned over the sink, then ran her fingers under her bright blue eyes, giving her reflection a subconscious duck face. A tiny weight sat on her bare foot, and she looked down to find her mini Pomeranian, Bisoux, with his copper head quirked. She smiled and bent to pick him up, nestling him in her side as she scratched his head, murmuring to him in French.

  She dropped into a red velvet armchair in her living room and scratched her dog’s tummy until his leg thumped. Bisoux was an automaton made by her husband, Hephaestus, an inventor. He looked exactly like a living dog, sans excrement and dying, which was perfect for an immortal goddess with no yard.

  The elevator dinged, and Dita turned to find Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, walking through her foyer in leggings, a v-neck, and hot pink socks.

  “Morning,” she said with a smile as she plopped down on the couch and propped her feet on the arm. Her big, dark eyes were bright behind nerdy glasses, and she twisted her long, black hair over her shoulder.

  “Nice alarm, asshole. Hades’ sadism has worn off on you in a way I don’t know that you’ll ever quite shake.” Dita wiggled her fingers in the arch of Perry’s foot.

  Perry squealed and tucked in her feet to keep them out of reach. “I aim to please. I know how much you love ABBA.”

  “I’ll never forgive Apollo for those Swedish harpies.”

  Perry giggled.

  “Did you come up just to gloat, or did you need something?”

  “So bitter. I’m sure you’ll pay me back.” She held her hands out for Bisoux, and Dita handed him over. Perry kissed his head. “To answer your question, yes, I mostly came up to gloat, but also because I have a feeling something is about to change.”

  Dita cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, psychic Perry? Tell me Persephone, mistress of the dark, what do you see when you look into the future?”

  Perry threw a throw pillow at her. “Ha, ha. Don’t dog on my title.”

  “Will you dress up like Elvira for me? Please?”

  “My boobs would never do that. Anyway, focus. You don’t feel it?”

  Dita thought for a second and felt it, just under her heart, a tug at the thread that connected all of the gods. “Yeah, I feel it. Do you think it’s the end of another competition?”

  “Maybe. Hephaestus and Ares have been going at it for a long time.”

  “Yeah, and that’s not awkward at all.”

  “Your husband versus your lover?”

  “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 competitions rarely have anything to do with it.”

  “Well, if it is over soon, you realize you’re up next?”

  Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. “Yes, and I am so ready. It’s been too long since I’ve had a real challenge. There is nothing I love more than making love matches.”

  “And winning.”

  “Yes, and winning,” Dita said with a smile.

  Perry’s stomach growled so loud that Bisoux jumped. “I’m a little hungry.”

  “You’re always a little hungry.” Dita stood, and when Perry joined her, they locked arms and made for the elevator with Bisoux in Perry’s arms.

  They stepped into the metal elevator, and Dita hit the lobby button, thanking the stars again 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 apart from humans, unreachable by humans, though the gods could visit Earth whenever they liked. For thousands of years, many gods and creatures chose to live on Earth, until it became too difficult to stay hidden. Almost all of them had moved back.

  The gods were obsessed with humans, adopting their style and culture as they influenced it. Both were passionate creatures, and even though humans had worshiped the gods for eons, the gods almost worshiped them more. Olympus was always modeled after the most intriguing architecture and culture of the time, and at that moment was fashioned after a high-rise, luxury apartment building in New York City, a city they loved so much that every window and every patio looked out over Manhattan.

  When the elevator dinged, 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 hair, wearing a silk robe printed with peacock feathers. She carried a
cup of coffee to the table and sat down, yawning.

  Hephaestus leaned over a plate of fried eggs and toast at the large kitchen island, his shoulders broad in a thick, navy blue knit sweater. He looked over at Aphrodite as she walked in and gave her a warm smile. She smiled back, and his cheeks flushed.

  Perry sat down next to Hades at the island and planted a kiss on his cheek as she set Bisoux down. He smiled down at her, his eyes dark, his black hair neatly combed, and pushed a heaping plate of cupcakes in front of her. She bounced in her seat, and he smoothed his tie, looking pleased with himself.

  Dita walked around the bar to the gigantic stainless steel fridge and pulled the heavy 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 dish 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. It was 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 that ingested nectar or ambrosia in its natural state were humans who had been granted immortality. It was a running joke with the gods, who found it amusing to watch them try to choke it down 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) Hilarious.

  She plated a slice of ambrosia and poured the nectar into a coffee mug with a giant heart on it. Her hair stirred as a soft breeze swirled around her, and the scent of roses tickled her nose. Aphrodite blinked. When she opened her eyes, her mug contained steaming coffee, and her plate of nasty-loaf was transformed into a heaping pile of hot bacon.

  Dita picked up her breakfast and walked over to the bar where she plopped down next to Perry.

  A solitary eyebrow inched up Perry’s forehead. “Your lust for meat never ceases to amaze me.”

  “Don’t judge, cupcake whore,” Dita said around a mouthful of bacon, nodding to the pile of cupcakes in front of Perry.

  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 fuzzy paw to tear a piece off. He ran on ambrosia, and bacon flavor was his favorite.

  “Morning, losers.” Ares swaggered in and snatched a piece of bacon from Dita’s plate, winking at her as he walked around the bar. Bisoux bared his tiny teeth and wrinkled his nose as a growl rumbled through him.

  Dita wondered what she’d ever seen in him as her eyes scanned his dark, heavy brow and his deep blue, brooding eyes. His Pantera t-shirt was stretched tight across his broad chest, and she lingered for a moment where his jeans hung low on his hips.

  Oh, right. He was a demon in the sack.

  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hephaestus tense. Every meal was like an awkward Thanksgiving dinner when the three of them were in the room together.

  “Well, hello, Heff.” Ares leaned onto the counter across from Hephaestus with a hot-shot smile plastered all over his jerk face. “I think it’s about time to pay the piper, don’t you?” He tossed the bacon into his mouth.

  “The game isn’t over yet, douchebag. The alarm hasn’t sounded.” Heff gestured to the alarm that stood 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 came up with a game to apply their antagonism to something constructive. They had been playing for thousands on 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, genius,” Ares said. “There’s no way that Apple can win now that Jobs isn’t in the picture.”

  “Too soon, man.” Heff took a bite of egg, grimaced, then put his fork down.

  Dita couldn’t understand how Heff could find anything Ares said shocking after living with the asshole for thousands of years. She popped another piece of bacon into her mouth as she watched.

  “Just give it up. My guy won, and this challenge has been going on too long. Jobs is gone. Pay up.”

  Apollo didn’t look up from the horoscope section of the newspaper as he butted in. “It’s true, Heff. You should call it now and save yourself the trouble of dragging it out. Trust me. They don’t call me the Oracle of Amazing Awesomeness for nothing.” Apollo rarely lied, and his visions of the future were generally bang on.

  “No one calls you that,” Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister, said matter-of-factly and stuck a spoonful of Cheerios into her mouth.

  Apollo pouted as he uncrossed and recrossed his legs, shaking his newspaper out with a snap.

  Heff reluctantly stretched out his leg and reached into his jeans pocket. He pulled out his fist and extended his hand, uncurling his fingers to reveal a glass orb the size of a ping pong ball with white magma churning inside. Heff tossed his token across the bar to Ares. “Here you go. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

  Ares grabbed it mid-air, looking all too satisfied with himself as the alarm in the corner disappeared. Their game was over.

  “Who’s on deck next?” Ares loved a good competition, preferably of the unfriendly variety.

  Hermes reached into his back pocket and pulled out his iPhone. “Hang on. I have an app for that.”

  “Traitor,” murmured Ares.

  “Looks like Dita’s up, and no one has beaten her in … 3,127 years.” Hermes raised his eyebrows at Dita.

  Dita gave a smug grin. She never lost. Ever.

  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 in his Converse, his eyes twinkling in his long 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, starting with Apollo. Dita 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. Apollo’s task, and a mighty one at that, will be to keep the humans apart.

  “The winner will receive a token from the loser, which will grant them any favor, a favor that cannot be refused.”

  Whistles and shouts rose from the crowd, and Hermes held up a hand to quiet them. “Settle down, folks. We all know how valuable these little babies are.” He rolled his wrist in a flourish, and a glass orb appeared between his thumb and forefinger.

  “Now, since the only way to win this glorious little favor is through the competitions, it’s only fair that a token should be played if you want another god to help you. Otherwise, you’re on your own. One of the only times a favor can be refused, other than if a previous oath is in place, is if you’re trying to cash it in to win a competition. For instance, if you asked me to help you, I would politely request that you sod off, because the last thing I want to do is help any of you assholes acquire another token.”

  A chuckle rolled through the crowd. Hermes had been slain in his last competition and was still pouting.

  “All right, let
s talk about our humans, shall we? Our players need to stay alive, so no gods may kill, maim, inflict disease, or impose any other permanent physical or mental damage on either of them. And, to keep the game fair, neither human can be interfered with directly. This includes, but is not limited to, possession, embodiment, or direct communication. All other humans are fair game.”

  A device appeared on the bar, summoned by Heff. A small replica of Dita stood on a seashell in a pool of water, golden hair waving behind her. Waves lapped a small beach ringing the platform where her likeness stood, and tiny mechanical doves flew around her. The iridescent water seemed all colors and none.

  Dita pushed her chair back and stepped over to the statue. When she ran her finger through the sand, the doves flew to where she had touched the display and pecked around for a moment before taking wing again. She turned to Heff, beaming.

  “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

  He smiled down at his breakfast and pushed his eggs around his plate. “You’re welcome.”

  She ran her hand across his shoulders as she walked past him and sat down, turning her attention back to Hermes.

  Hermes sauntered over to the alarm and gestured to the statue. “You all know what this is,” he said, “though to avoid any legal issues through the course of the competition, let it be stated, for the record.

  “This statue is the alarm for the contest. The water will change color, based upon the outcome. If you cheat, the water will turn orange. Green means the couple has chosen to be together. If they’re separated irreparably, the water will turn red, and if the timer runs out, the water will turn black. Once the contest is over, that’s it. No take-backs if the couple gets together or breaks up once the alarm has gone off.”

  Turning to the crowd, Hermes asked, “Apollo, since we’re going alphabetically, you’re up first. Are you willing to play?”

  “Absolutely.”

  Dita swung out of her chair, coffee in hand, and strutted up to Apollo. She slapped him on the shoulder with a cheery smile. “Game on. You think you can win this time?”

 
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