Marius lives just outside New York City. Here’s where property value comes into play. Vanessa’s place is midway between Boston and New York, but off the beaten track, in an area that has little to recommend it besides the fact it’s only two hours to either city. Marius lives within enviably easy commuting distance, so while his property is a fraction of the size, I bet the land is worth more.
His house is what I’d expected from Vanessa’s. It’s not massive, but it firmly states “I have money.” Two-story, white brick, palatial design complete with columns. Like Vanessa’s estate, it’s gated, but in Marius’s case, it’s an eight-foot wrought iron fence with security cameras, another clear message.
We drop Rian off well before we’re in camera range.
We don’t get a chance to announce ourselves. The gates roll open as we approach. It’s a circular drive, and we stop at the top of it. As we get out, I inhale the distinct smell of horses and glance over to see a distant barn. There’s a pool around the side with markers for swimming laps. I can also see what looks like a range with targets. Archery? Marksmanship? Either way, it tells me to be extra careful around Marius. He might seem chill, but he deals in war, and I suspect it’s more than just a random career choice.
The door opens before we get there. Marius steps out. The tux is gone, replaced with jeans and a T-shirt. His feet are bare, and he has a beer in hand. It’s a very different view of the man, one that I suspect is more his natural habitat, like this estate, with all its toys for active living.
“I feel overdressed,” I say as we climb the stairs.
He laughs. “I’d say to make yourself comfortable, but that could sound suggestive. I got out of that monkey suit the first chance I had. Feel free to kick off your shoes and lose the tie and jacket.”
We step inside, and I remove my heels. Connolly keeps his shoes and tie on but does let Marius take his jacket.
“Head on into the living room,” Marius says with a wave down a side hall. “I’ll give Vess a shout.”
“She isn’t here?” I say.
His voice drifts back as he takes Connolly’s jacket away. “We split up after the party fiasco. She’s changing back at her hotel. I said I’d call when you get here.”
I glance at Connolly. He has his phone out, and he’s texting. A moment later, he nods, confirming that Vanessa replied. Nothing suspicious then.
We head in the direction Marius indicated. It takes us down a hall and then opens into a cavernous room with several seating areas, as if it’d originally been for large-scale entertaining, and he’s tried to make more a comfortable setup. I don’t see which seating arrangement he’d been using, and I’m about to let Connolly choose one when I see the statues. Gorgeous Greco-Roman statues in each corner, which of course require closer examination.
“His own private museum,” Connolly muses as I approach one.
“Right? No wonder he hasn’t made this into multiple rooms. These statues would overwhelm a smaller space.”
“That one looks familiar,” he says.
I nod. “Crouching Venus. The original is in the British Museum. This must be a reproduction, but a contemporaneous one—from the same time period. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she?”
It’s my favorite Aphrodite. Usually, she’s depicted standing and naked, as if on display. Here, she’s crouched and covering herself with one arm while she looks over her shoulder, as if some unwanted intruder approaches. Those usual upright nude statues speak to pride. Witness me, I am beauty incarnate. This one resonates with me more. Some see modesty in her pose and expression. I see exasperation and annoyance.
Stop looking at me. Stop chasing me. I am more than what you see.
“I forgot to ask what you’d like to drink,” Marius calls from the next room. “Beer? Wine? Spirits?”
“Beer is fine,” I say.
“I’ll take . . . a whiskey,” Connolly says.
A chuckle from the hall as Marius peeks around the corner. “Scotch, I’m guessing.”
“If you have it.”
“Oh, I have it. I have it all.”
When he’s gone, I reluctantly leave Aphrodite to move to the statue in the corner nearest her. As I approach it, my breath catches. It’d been hidden in the shadows, and it’s only as I draw close that I see it clearly. Another one I know well.
It’s a young man, sitting on a chair. There’s a length of fabric wound around one arm and over one thigh, but he’s otherwise naked, showing off a perfectly muscled body. It’s the expression that gets me, as it always does with this one. His head is slightly tilted, looking away from the viewer, lost in his thoughts. The pose is casual, one foot resting on a helmet, his hands on the hilt of a sheathed sword. A shield leans against his leg.
“Another god?” Connolly says.
“You don’t recognize him?”
He shakes his head.
I reach out to touch it and stop myself. “That’s because he’s usually shown older. Bearded. Look at the objects with him. Sword. Shield. Helmet . . .”
“A warrior? God of . . .” He frowns. “Ares?”
I smile. “God of war. He looks different here, doesn’t he? Real.” I nod at the Crouching Venus. “Neither is what we expect. More nuanced portrayals. Deeper. More . . .”
I don’t finish the thought. My brain has already raced ahead, seizing something in these statues and running with it. Running to a place that makes me almost laugh, and then stop. Stop and think.
No, that isn’t . . .
That can’t . . .
I wheel on Connolly so fast he startles. “Hector was limping tonight. I thought he hurt his foot in the chaos.”
Connolly shakes his head. “No, he has a limp.”
“A twisted foot.”
He frowns. “Yes, how did you know?”
I don’t answer. I just stare at the statue and remember all the little things tonight that didn’t quite make sense. The undercurrents running through the gala. Hector and Vanessa. Marius and Vanessa. Hector and Marius. The last nudges hardest, remembering Marius when the necklace came out and when Connolly declared it a forgery.
“You don’t want to admire the craftsmanship?”
“Go have a closer look, Hector. You can clear this up. You are, after all, the expert.”
“Get off your ass, and check the damned necklace.”
“Kennedy?” Connolly says. “You’re thinking something.”
When I hesitate, he leans in, breath warm on the top of my head. “If it’s a theory, you can share it.”
“However crazy it sounds?”
He nods. “I know I’ve made you feel . . . patronized. Maybe even judged. I hope you’ve come to understand that I don’t mean that. However wild the theory, I’d like to hear it.”
I still hold back. It really is wild. Crazy. Preposterous even. He can say he won’t judge me for it, but he’s thinking it’s just something slightly off-the-wall. Not this.
Yet it fits. It all fits. The only alternate explanation I can come up with is that we’re the audience for a very elaborate performance. Which makes no sense. We’re a couple of twenty-something nobodies to these people. There’s nothing to be gained by such a set up.
Which means . . .
Oh, hell. I have no idea what it means. The only thing I can do is share it. A leap of faith in Connolly and how far we’ve come.
I tell him my theory. He blinks. That’s it. A blink that says he must have misheard. He looks from the statue to me.
“Did I mention the crazy?” I say. “Forget I said anything, okay?”
I start to turn away, he reaches for my arm, but I’ve moved, and his fingers land on my hip instead. They rest there lightly as he leans toward me.
“Just tell me more,” he says. “Give me data. My mind isn’t like yours. You’ve seen clues I haven’t. Share those. Please.”
I do. As I talk, he doesn’t react. I think that’s my answer. He isn’t making the same connections. He’s right. Our brains work differently. I have the wild imagination, and sometimes that helps, my “outside the box” thinking. He’s the analyst. I’ve provided the data and he’s processed it and found my theory flawed.
“How do you want to . . .?” he says and cuts his gaze toward the hall.
It takes me a moment to realize he’s saying my theory is sound. That as crazy as it seems, the explanation works. Before I can react, Marius comes in, carrying a tray of bottles and glasses.
“I brought Macallan and Ardbeg for Aiden to choose from,” he says. “I prefer the Ardbeg, but Vess says it’s too peaty.”
He notices the statue we’re admiring and nods, but says nothing, just sets the tray on a table.
“Ludovisi Ares,” I say, gesturing to the statue.
That makes his green eyes light up. “It is.”
“It’s missing Eros, though.” I nod at the statue’s leg. “That was a later addition, I believe. From the Renaissance-era restoration.”
“It was. A rather ridiculous one, too. Who looks at that and says, you know what it really needs? Cupid.”
“Eros is Ares’s son.”
He rolls his eyes. “No, Eros is like that long-lost nephew they shove into long-running TV shows. You know what will spice this up? A cute kid.”
I gesture from Aphrodite to Ares. “I like your choices.”
I nod. “They’re unique representations. Nuanced. Like real people.”
He wrinkles his nose and waves at Ludovisi Ares. “Not sure I’d call that nuanced. It’s an idealized version. A boudoir shot, all hazy lighting and filters. But all statues are that way, and I like this one best. Despite the idealization, it says something more.”
He hands me my beer and a glass. When I wave off the glass, he grins and takes it back.
“Not sure I agree on the idealization part. They’re gods, right? They should be perfect specimens.”
“Depends on your view of gods. You’re supposedly descended from them, right? You from the arae.” He nods at Connolly. “You from Fortuna. How do you reconcile that? Real gods in your family tree?”
I shrug. “My grandmother would say that it depends—like you said—on your view of gods. A mortal with powers could be mistaken for one. That works for the arae—a group, rather than individuals. When it comes to the actual named gods, though? The issue is time.”
His brows rise.
“Imagine one mortal woman has power, maybe a lot of it,” I say. “People revere her as a god. But are they still going to be doing that a thousand years after she dies? Two thousand? On a large scale, especially in prehistory, you’d need more. Godhood would need to be conferred by the greatest power of all: immortality.”
“Reasonable,” he says and then opens his beer. “Not gods residing on Mount Olympus then, but humans with gifts, one of which is immortality.”
He sips his beer. Just sips it. He’s waiting for me to go on. That’s all I’m getting. All the steps are mine. All the heavy lifting is mine. If I don’t have the guts to make this leap—if my ego can’t risk the humiliation of a mistake—well, then I don’t deserve answers.
I look from the statue to Marius, trying to mentally find the bridge. My natural inclination leans toward humor. A joke. A clever quip. I’m grasping for one when Connolly, who has been silent until now, speaks.
“Someone set up an appointment with Kennedy,” he says, “under the name Erin Concord. Erin for Eris, another name for Discord. Concord as another name for Harmonia. Alluding to the necklace with a little clever name play. I think you all have an affinity for that—plays on names.”
Connolly nods toward the statue. “Mars, also known as Ares.” A nod toward the other statue. “Venus, also known as Aphrodite. Hephaestus, also known as Vulcan. Marius Archer. Vanessa Apsley. Hector Voden.”
Marius throws back his head and laughs, the sound echoing in the giant room. Then he looks at us, still grinning. “Well, that took long enough.” He lifts his beer. “Bring your drinks and let’s chat.”