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From darkness hearts & a.., p.1
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       From Darkness (Hearts & Arrows Book 3), p.1

           Staci Hart
 
From Darkness (Hearts & Arrows Book 3)


  From Darkness

  Hearts & Arrows 3

  Staci Hart

  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. 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

  Proofreading: Love N Books

  Photography: Perrywinkle Photography

  Playlist: http://spoti.fi/2fh8WyZ

  Pin Board: http://bit.ly/2jRxl3p

  Contents

  More Books by Staci Hart

  Preface

  Prologue

  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 21

  Epilogue

  Enjoy With A Twist?

  Acknowledgments

  Also by Staci Hart

  About the Author

  More Books by Staci Hart

  CONTEMPORARY STANDALONES

  With a Twist (Bad Habits)

  Chaser (Bad Habits)

  Last Call (Bad Habits)

  Wasted Words

  Tonic

  A Thousand Letters

  Bad Penny

  A Little Too Late

  Hardcore

  HEARTS AND ARROWS

  Paper Fools (Book 1)

  Shift (Book 2)

  What the Heart Wants (Novella 2.5)

  From Darkness (Book 3)

  Fool’s Gold (Novella 3.5)

  SHORT STORIES

  Once

  Desperate Measures

  Nailed

  Sign up for the newsletter to receive a FREE copy of Desperate Measures!

  To Elyse Schramm, who loves unicorns so much.

  They’re basically her favorite thing ever.

  #skinhorse

  You may

  blame Aphrodite

  soft as she is

  she has almost

  killed me with

  love for that boy

  —Sappho

  Prologue

  “DOUCHE VON GOBBLECOCK.”

  PERRY burst out laughing from her beach towel and sat up, propping herself on her elbows. She tilted her face to the sun.

  “Okay, okay, um…Dongle McDicklicker.”

  “Ooh. Good one.” Dita stretched out on her stomach, slipped her sunglasses off, and rested her chin on the back of her hands. “Penis McFrankfurter.”

  Perry giggled. “Ares would not be amused by our new nicknames for him, and I don’t even care.”

  Dita’s chest tightened at the sound of his name. “I thought we agreed not to say Fitz Von Landingstrip’s actual name.”

  She offered an apologetic glance. “Sorry. I’ll get used to using Beaver Du Cockburn’s sobriquets.” Perry adjusted a balled-up towel under her head.

  “Sobriquet? Really?” Dita glanced over with an eyebrow up.

  “What? That’s a legitimate word.”

  “No one has used that word conversationally since France in 1890.”

  Perry lifted her chin defiantly. “I think it sounds fancy, and I don’t apologize. Abraham Dickchin.”

  Dita snorted a laugh. “Oh my gods.”

  They fell into content silence as the sun beat down on them, and Dita closed her eyes, hearing nothing but the waves as they hit the shore and hissed as the water slipped away again. Tension left her with every wave, and she emptied her mind of Ares, replacing her thoughts with the sounds of the ocean, wishing she could lie there forever.

  Perry spoke after a little while. “So how not ready are you to go back tonight?”

  When Dita opened her eyes, they fixed on a patch of sea grass swaying in the breeze, not wanting to meet Perry’s eyes. “I can’t even put a gauge on that. Right now, I feel like I can handle it. But actually seeing him again?” She sighed.

  “Do you have a plan?” Perry dug her toes into the sand at the end of her towel and wiggled them until they showed again.

  “Hmm, sort of.” Dita laid her cheek on her hand.

  “Does it involve picturing him naked? Because I don’t think that will help you.”

  “Ha, ha. Yes, I have a plan.” Dita paused, knowing exactly how lame her plan was. It sounded even stupider when she said it out loud. “I’m just going to pretend like he doesn’t exist.”

  Perry’s chin dropped, and she eyed Dita over her Wayfarers. “That’s your big idea? To ignore him?”

  “What else can I do? Facing him isn’t an option. Avoiding him is all I’ve got. So help me out by whispering dirty dick names in my ear.”

  “That, I can do.” Perry looked up at the clouds.

  Dita flipped onto her back, unable to get comfortable. “If I had my way, I’d stay here, maybe indefinitely. But I’m out of time. The next competition starts tomorrow, and I doubt Artemis will give a shit that I don’t want to be around Preston Dabutt.”

  A laugh shot out of Perry. “I love this game.”

  Dita smiled. “So do I. It’s hard to be afraid of someone with a name like Dick Van de Lick.”

  The breeze skated across Dita’s body, and she closed her eyes against the sun, thinking over everything that would happen when she returned to Olympus. It had been almost two weeks, and she couldn’t hide any longer, couldn’t avoid turning the page, and she didn’t like what she knew was coming.

  She’d have to see him.

  She’d have to figure out how to be alone for the first time in thousands of years.

  Everything had changed, and there was no going back. And in that, she found she was lost.

  Even worse, she was afraid.

  “Dita, you really freak me out when you’re quiet.”

  She opened her eyes and blew out a breath as she stared up at the sky. “I just don’t know what to expect, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. So, my flimsy plan is to go back to Olympus, avoid him, and try to keep myself busy. Luckily, I have the competition to distract me. Needling Artemis should be a great diversion.”

  Perry looked sideways at Dita from behind her shades. “I dunno. You two have more in common now than you ever have before.”

  “Why? Because she’s sworn off love or because she’s miserable?”

  Perry chuckled.

  “Artemis and I have never seen eye-to-eye. She treats me like I’m useless, like love is useless. Love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and she denies its relevance. Love can heal, hurt, start wars. End wars.” Dita sighed. “We’ll never get along.”

  “Probably not, but she has her reasons for feeling the way she does. She might be wrong about love, but everyone has their own motivations for how they feel. It’s all about perspective.”

  Dita pouted. “Ugh, you suck. Can we just not like her? Please?”

  Perry held her hands up in surrender. “Fine, fine.”

  “Okay, this is what we’re going to do,” Dita said with finality as she settled in.
We are going to spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach. Then, we are going to have a last, legitimate Greek meal, during which we will get very, very drunk.”

  “I like this plan,” Perry said with a nod.

  “Then, and only then, will I face the music. Hopefully Colon Peniston will be off fucking himself and he’ll leave me alone.”

  “Operation Ostrich. Head in the sand with your feathered ass in the air.”

  “Exactly.”

  “Until you get eaten by the lion you don’t see coming. You know, because your head is buried?”

  “You’re so morbid,” Dita said dryly.

  Perry shrugged. “I’m the Queen of the Underworld. Morbidity comes with the territory.”

  They fell into silence, soaking up the final hours before they would go back to reality, back to the game, back to their lives—Perry to Hades and Dita to an empty apartment and an empty heart. And it was all Dita could do to find hope that she would be able to keep herself together enough to survive.

  Day 1

  DARKNESS PRESSED IN ON her from every direction.

  She stumbled with splayed hands, her powers useless. No sound reached her ears, the maddening void sending panic through her, sending a scream climbing up her throat. Her eyes strained against the black, but all she found was a nothingness so heavy, so complete, that it was a living thing, squeezing her until her lungs burned. She dropped to her knees, though they never found the ground as she fell down and down.

  Dita shot out of bed with a gasp.

  Sweat beaded on her brow, her hair lank. She pressed her hand to her chest, and her heart banged back, as if it were trying to escape.

  Nightmares had plagued her ever since Adonis was lost to her and Elysium along with him. When he’d drunk the Lethe, he had forgotten his human life, forgotten her, closing the door forever. The comfort of his arms through the portal of her dreams was gone, replaced with vivid nightmares.

  Ares was at the helm of each lucid dream and every waking moment, lurking in the back of her mind, slithering and snaking through her thoughts, leaving no room for peace. The threat of him was a tangible thing. She pictured him over and over, huge and red in his wrath, felt his fingers around her neck as he choked her, heard his voice as he told her he’d never let her go.

  Dita touched her neck at the thought as Bisoux pulled himself toward her on his stomach. She took a breath and let it out slowly, but the pressure in her chest stayed where it was.

  “Bonjour, mon ami.” She scratched behind his ear.

  He leaned into her hand.

  Dita lay back down in her warm bed and pulled the covers up to her chin, burying herself in a cocoon of down and Egyptian cotton. She daydreamed about staying there, wistfully wondering how long things would stay the same, if her problems would all just disappear.

  But she knew she was at the end of the line when it came to avoidance. Once she left the confines of her sanctuary, it would all be over. The bubble would pop.

  She burrowed even deeper in her bed, and Bisoux climbed onto her chest and curled up in a furry ball with eyes. Soft daylight came through the artificial windows that hung on the walls like paintings, an invention that had been waiting for her when she returned from Greece. Heff had known how much she hated living underground with him, but she had been mandated to reside there by Zeus, and that was a fight that wasn’t even worth it.

  Dita gazed out the window and tried to motivate herself to get up. The next round of the game would start within hours, and she’d have to face all of Olympus. Part of her wished she’d come back sooner and eased into life instead of prolonging her return to the last possible minute. The fanfare of the beginning of a game was stressful under normal circumstances, but after being absent for weeks in the wake of everything that had happened, all eyes would be on her.

  Being in the spotlight wasn’t something that usually bothered her, but she knew for a fact that she was the headline of everyone’s conversations. Who knew what they assumed? Because they assumed plenty, she was sure. Gossip was so much more entertaining than the truth, and even though she hated being the object of negativity, all she could do was hold her head up and face it.

  And face it, she would. Everyone would be upstairs, waiting for her. Including Ares.

  Anxiety flashed through her, as it did every time he crossed her mind. While she’d been in Greece, she’d thought of him less and less with every day—every night was a different story entirely—and for a second, she’d convinced herself she was coping. Getting over it. But then she would hear something, smell something, see something that reminded her, and her memories would kick her back in time with a jolt.

  She knew she’d be a swinging pendulum until the right amount of time passed, but that knowledge didn’t stop her from hoping her heart would somehow heal faster. That she would wake up, and the pain would be behind her. But deep down, she knew it wasn’t even close to being over. She’d stopped crying though, which was something.

  In just a little while, she would see Ares in the flesh. She pictured him standing before her with cutting dark eyes and fists clenched at his sides, imagining him reaching for her, invading her space, invading her mind and life and heart.

  She pushed the thought away before it could run away with her and bucked up. Maybe he wouldn’t show; it wasn’t his competition after all. Maybe he was just as nervous and upset about seeing her and would stay away since he had a choice in being there, whereas she didn’t.

  But then she remembered he was undeniably Ares. Of course he would be there, and she’d take it a step further and wager he’d probably do something to upset her.

  The thought cranked her nerves up another notch, and she took a deep breath, trying for reason. She told herself he would be cautious enough. All the gods would be watching. Surely he wouldn’t do anything stupid, not with Zeus’s threats of banishment looming over him. If all that were true, there would be little he could do to get to her.

  If she didn’t let him affect her, she’d be fine.

  Sure, just don’t let him get to you. Simple.

  Dita flung off her covers and padded to her infinity closet, ditching her tight little sleep shorts and tank for jeans and a cotton henley, making sure the small buttons at the collar were buttoned nearly to the top. The last thing she needed was to draw any extra attention from He Who Must Not Be Named. She had no idea how she would handle seeing even a hint of desire in his eyes. Maybe she’d vomit. Or punch him.

  Worse — she could feel answering attraction. Of course, that could also result in vomit or punching.

  Baby steps.

  Dita walked to the elevator with Bisoux trotting behind her. She picked him up and looked into his little black eyes, hanging on to him like a life preserver.

  “We can do this. Right, buddy?”

  Bisoux let out a little bark, and Dita stepped into the elevator, finding comfort in knowing that, at the very least, her robot dog was on her side.

  Her nerves ticked like a time bomb as the elevator climbed and the doors opened.

  She stepped into the expansive foyer and toward the sleek, modern kitchen where the Olympians were bustling around, making breakfast or coffee—or, in Dionysus’s case, a White Russian. A handful of gods sat around the kitchen island bar, eating, and before anyone had a chance to notice her, she froze just outside of the room with a twisted stomach, scanning their faces for Ares.

  Instead, she found Perry, who sat at the long dining table and waved her over.

  Relief slipped over Dita, and she uprooted her feet to make her way over.

  The noise in the room fell to hushed whispers as she passed, but she locked eyes with Perry and put on a plastic smile. Several dozen eyes followed her until she sat down.

  “You okay?” Perry’s brows knit together with worry as the conversation began to rise to normal, non-asshole levels.

  “For now.” Dita’s eyes roamed the room from wall to wall, as if Ares would just appear out of thin air.
<
br />   “Breakfast?”

  Dita shook her head. “Not unless you want me to puke.”

  The waiting was unbearable. She had nothing to say, not with every ounce of brainpower she possessed anticipating him, anxiously waiting for the shock and hurt and anger to slap her in the face when she laid eyes on him.

  Heff took the seat on the other side of her, and she felt a small amount of relief, sitting between the two of them. Her stomach rumbled when she saw the bacon on his plate, next to his eggs and toast.

  “Want some?” he asked, his blue eyes and rumbling voice full of concern.

  She smiled, grateful that he hadn’t asked about Ares. “I’m okay.”

  He relaxed only a little, smiling in answer from behind his beard. “I’m glad you’re back.”

  “I missed you, too. Thank you so much for the windows, Heff. They’re brilliant.”

  “I worked on them for years, but I couldn't ever to get them just right. It was my top project while you were gone. Almost didn’t get them ready in time.”

  “They’re perfect, really.” She beamed at him.

  He flushed. “I’m glad you think so. Did you find the remote on your nightstand?”

  “No. How did I miss that?”

  He leaned back in his chair and hung an arm on the back of hers, his eyes warm and pleased and smiling as they looked into hers. “I’m sure you had other things on your mind. You can change your view to New York, Paris, London, Santorini. I programmed over a hundred views.”

  So much thought, so much care he had put into the gift, just like he always did. Because he was one of the truest things in her life.

 
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