AUTHOR NOTE: Please remember that this is a first draft. You’re going to see an increasing number of what seem like continuity errors as we reach the final chapters (you probably already have) These aren’t errors–they represent plot changes. This is the first time I’ve serialized a complete novel, and the plot is much more complex than the average novella, so there’s a lot of re-thinking and re-directing. If this bothers you as a reader, please wait for the edited version, which will be released in the spring. No need to tell me that I’ve made these “errors”–I know 🙂 I’ve also long since stopped fussing with typos. Those will be found and fixed post-edits.
Ani is still another hour out, and I haven’t told her what’s happening here. I’m struggling to find the words. Or maybe struggling to find a way to explain the inexplicable. To tell her that we’re caught in a power play between immortals . . . without her deciding I’ve lost my mind.
I need to do this face-to-face. Maybe it seems like it’d be easier to do in an e-mail, where I can lay everything out and not have her cut me off halfway to administer drug tests. But I communicate better in person. I’ll just need Connolly standing by in case Ani and Jonathan decide I have indeed been drugged and try to spirit me away for detox.
Postponing that conversation also means more time to get a better handle on everything that’s happened. When Ani does arrive, we’ll need to hit the ground running. Havoc has already sent her timeline. The uncursing will be later today, at a location to be revealed.
It turns out that Havoc knows her “family” well, as one would expect after thousands of years. She was right about why Marius wanted the necklace. It was a gift for Vanessa. That necklace killed their daughter. Its continued existence in the world—and the victims it leaves in its wake—remind her of Harmonia’s fate and her own guilt.
As for that guilt, under the circumstances, I see nothing wrong with her falling for Marius. The blame for this necklace lies squarely on the guy who made it. Hector wanted to hurt her, and so he has, for millennia. When the necklace surfaced, Marius was willing to move mountains to get it. I can’t blame him, even if my family had been steamrolled in his path.
Get the necklace. Uncurse it. Present it to Vanessa to do with as she would.
Vanessa, having no idea what Marius intended, wanted the Necklace of Harmonia for the same reason: to get it out of the world. Only she wasn’t going to bother with the uncursing. Destruction was her only goal. Get the hated thing and destroy it.
Connolly and I leave the room after this explanation. We find the kitchen and put together breakfast to give them time alone. This is their shared grief, as parents, and two thousand years hasn’t dimmed that pain. Their daughter was punished for their supposed sin. I didn’t think it was possible to hate Hector more. I was wrong. However “monstrous” Havoc might be, it’s obvious that Vanessa and Marius had experience with that level of cruelty long before she came along.
We’re still fussing in the kitchen when they call us back in. Enough grieving. Time to move forward.
Step one is sorting it all out. Who did what? Hector seems to be off the game board here, but if he isn’t—or if there’s another player—we need to know that.
The woman who tried to hire my sisters with the cursed car was Marius’s employee. Marius was the guy on the phone and, yes, he’d intentionally channeled Hector. As for the task he set me on, he knew Connolly was ambitious and presumably backed by his wealthy family, which made him a viable competitor for the necklace. That move was half about pushing Connolly off the board and half about keeping me from being hired by other buyers.
The guys who tried to run us off the road? Havoc’s, as she said. Like the dream shaper, it was a way to scare us off or at least drive a wedge between us. If the car stunt had killed us? Oh, well. That was Havoc.
Tracking Connolly’s car meant Havoc knew he’d gone to see Vanessa. She had a dream shaper on staff. Vanessa’s security system had been installed by Marius, and while he’d kept Havoc out of that, she obviously got the specs from his employee.
As for the appointment to see me, it seems obvious that was Havoc. She used her real name, after all—or a variation on it. But neither Marius nor Vanessa is entirely certain it’d been her. That’s why Vanessa didn’t mention it when I brought up the name. It could have been her or it could have been someone playing a long game, pointing the finger at Havoc, should we ever figure out the rest. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
That leaves one thing unexplained. A thing I wouldn’t have brought up myself—as important as it is to me, it’s trivial in the overarching scheme.
“Who trashed Kennedy’s shop then?” Connolly says.
“Still not me,” Vanessa says. *
Marius frowns. “Trashed her shop?”
When Vanessa explains, he says, “That wasn’t me. It sounds like Hector. That’s certainly his style. A bully’s warning, telling you not to get involved. Yet it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see a connection between him and you. He had Rian Connolly, and he wanted the necklace, but he didn’t want it uncursed. His joy comes from seeing it out there, hurting people. Hurting Vess.”
“Presumably it was Havoc, then,” I say. “Raising havoc.”
They exchange a look. Then Vanessa says, “Havoc and Hector may share some traits in common—he is her uncle, after all—but they each have their own style of villainy. Hector is a brute. For him, it’s all about control. A modern therapist might blame his twisted leg. His own father did that to him in a fit of rage, and while it’s a minor impediment, Hector already felt less than his siblings. Not as clever as Athene. Not as popular as Apollo. Not as charismatic as Dionysus. Not as powerful as Ares. Not as athletic as Artemis. Not as quick-witted as Hermes. Hephaestus always ran at the back of the pack.”
“And then he couldn’t run at all,” Marius says. “He has a talent—an incredible one. He is the smith, the creator of wondrous things. But even in that . . .” He shrugs. “A modern shrink would see a need to control. He creates, and he destroys. So he’d absolutely destroy your shop to send a message. Havoc, though, has a different brain. Single-minded ambition and single-minded cruelty.”
“She’s fixated on Daddy,” Vanessa says. “Impressing him and pushing away everyone else in his life. If you get in her way, she’ll mow you down. But destroying your shop just because she can?” She shakes her head. “That isn’t Havoc.”
“Which doesn’t mean she isn’t responsible,” Marius says. “But she would, as Vess said, have mowed through to get to a goal. Is there anything in your shop she might have wanted?”
Connolly and I exchange a look.
“There’s a tea caddy,” he says.
Their brows rise.
“Tea caddy?” Vanessa says, as if she’s heard wrong.
“Cursed tea caddy,” I say, and I explain.
“So yes,” I say as I finish. “We definitely wondered whether the tea caddy was the cause of the trashing. We also wondered whether the guy who brought it was testing me. But when you dig down, it’s . . .”
I wave my hands. “It’s like I have these two jigsaw pieces, and I see enough similarity that I want to connect them, but they just don’t fit and I’m left deciding they must be separate puzzles.”
Connolly nods. “A stranger demands Kennedy’s curse working right at the time we’re preparing for the auction. A joker’s jinx, which could be a test for the auction. The man mentions her sisters and claims they sent him, which means he knows something about the magical world. But then he abandons the box and never contacts Kennedy again. Also, it’s a very minor jinx, on a very ordinary box, hardly a test at all.”
Marius and Vanessa sit in silence, obviously thinking it through.
“I don’t like coincidences,” Marius says.
“Neither do I,” Vanessa murmurs.
“Would you like to see the box?” I say. “It’s in Aiden’s trunk.”
They both perk up at that.
“Absolutely,” Vanessa says. “Bring it in, please.”
We don’t get to the tea caddy right away. We’re heading outside when Ani texts to say she’s approaching the gate. Marius lets her in, and then he stays inside with Vanessa as we go out to greet Ani and Jonathan. Greet and explain what they’ve walked into. Connolly stands a few feet away, offering silent support while we talk outside Jonathan’s car.
When I finish, Ani says, carefully, her gaze cutting to Connolly, “What have you had to eat since you’ve been here, Kay?”
I glance at Connolly. “Called it.”
“I haven’t been drugged,” I say.
Another furtive look toward Connolly, and then she lowers her voice and says, “Just get in the car, Kennedy. Please. Whatever he’s told you—”
“Called that, too.”
Connolly murmurs. “You did.”
He walks over even as Ani tenses, her hand snaking out to grab me. “Kennedy said you’d think she’d been drugged, or you’d blame me for brainwashing her. You don’t know me well enough to know I wouldn’t do that, but I’d hope you’d know your sister better to think anyone could convince her of anything.”
He stops beside me. “Everything Kennedy says is true, even if I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it myself. It’s preposterous. But when matched with the evidence . . .” He shrugs.
“Fine.” Ani turns to me. “I won’t blame Aiden, who has obviously drunk the same Kool-Aid. But I know how much you love mythology and Greco-Roman history. Someone has taken advantage of that and your imagination.”
“Was that supposed to be less insulting than accusing me of being brainwashed?” I say.
She looks at Jonathan. “Help me out here.”
He says nothing, just stands there, frowning slightly, lost in thought.
“Jonathan?” she says.
“I’d like more information,” he says.
“You’re not—” she sputters. “You aren’t actually buying this.”
He turns a look on her. A deceptively bland look I know well.
Ani flushes. “Okay, that was insulting. I’m just . . Gods? Really?”
“Immortals,” he says. “And one could say the same about you. Curse weaving? Really?”
“It’s not the same.”
Jonathan shades his eyes, looking around the property. The he motions us toward a crumbling stone wall, where a few chairs have been set in the shade.
Ani hesitates. Jonathan is telling us to settle in for a chat, which implies we’re going to discuss this, rather than flee the premises.
When she glances back at the car, he says, “Right. Ellie. I should let her out.”
“You brought my cat?” I say.
“Jonathan brought your cat.”
“I didn’t know how long we’d be gone,” he says.
I shake my head. “No wonder she likes you best.”
“After a two-hour car ride, I don’t think she likes anyone.”
He hands me the carrier, and I take it to the chairs. I open it on the ground, and then hop onto the low wall. Ellie glares at me.
“Oh, sorry,” I say. “Did you want this spot? Plenty of room for us both.”
She settles on the grass and begins cleaning a paw.
Connolly walks over to the wall and looks at it.
“Yes, it’s dirty,” I say. “Also crumbling. It’s very picturesque and fun to perch on, but definitely not clothing friendly.”
“Then it’s a good thing this tux is rented.” He turns and boosts himself up gracefully. “I really should change back into my clothing from yesterday.”
“Same,” I say, swinging my legs. “Before I totally ruin this dress.”
“Ani brought you a bag of clothing,” Jonathan says as he sits on a chair.
“Because you mentioned it,” Ani says to him.
“Because you were understandably distracted.” He turns to us. “Back to the discussion of gods. Or, I suppose, immortals. Yes, that’s bigger than curse-weaving, but hasn’t it always been the family history? Not immortals per se, but people with magical powers who were revered as deities? Powers they passed on through their bloodline? Yes, no one theorized those original magic users could still be around, but the basic idea follows. You said Venus—Vanessa—has the power of dream shaping. The old stories credit other sources for that ability, but that doesn’t preclude her from being the original. What about Marius? What’s his power?”
I hesitate. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this, from Havoc’s grandstanding villain speech.
First, the Connolly boys. Your star progeny.
You’re the god of brute strength and dumb luck, Ares.
Battle luck. She’d been mocking Marius about that. There’s the physical resemblance, too, the one that made me first wonder whether Marius could be Rian. It would also explain Vanessa’s interest in Connolly, consciously as her lover’s son, someone to watch out for and get to know better. But also, maybe, as a potential lover because he subconsciously reminded her of Marius himself.
Connolly very clearly hasn’t figured this out. I’m not going to tell him now. It derails this conversation. It hardly matters in the moment anyway.
I make a noncommittal noise, and Jonathan continues, “We can get that later.”
“Just as long as we aren’t descended from Hector,” I say with a shudder. I glance at Connolly. “And now that I say that, he’s the most likely suspect, isn’t he? For being a curse weaver. He made the necklace. He’s the craftsman.”
“If he is the first curse weaver, it has nothing to do with you,” Connolly says. “We can’t choose our families.” A quirk of a smile. “As I remind myself almost daily.”
“Right,” I say. “Moving right along, then. Whether you believe they’re immortal or not, Ani, that doesn’t change the fact that Havoc has Hope and Rian, and she has the necklace. The solution to this problem doesn’t change if they aren’t immortals. There’s a cursed necklace that needs uncursing. We do that, and we get our siblings back.”
“If we fail, our sister is cursed,” Ani says.
“Trying not to think about that. Except as further incentive to get this right. Which is why Havoc did it. Now—”
As I’m talking, Ani’s gaze cuts to the side, and then she does such a double take that I stop mid-sentence. I follow her gaze to see Vanessa on the front porch, shielding her eyes against the dawn sun.
“Holy shit,” Ani murmurs.
Jonathan squints over and blinks. “Uh, goddess of beauty, I’m guessing?”
“Right?” I say. “I always picture Aphrodite as a thin and blond twenty-year-old, but this actually makes more sense.”
Marius appears behind Vanessa and says something to her. She nods and calls, “How’s it going?”
“Fine!” I shout back.
“I think Aiden must be due for his second coffee of the day,” she calls. “If you’d care to bring your sister and her friend in to chat.”
“Coffee with the gods,” Jonathan murmurs. “Dare I hope for pastries, too?”
“The best pastries,” I say.
“After all, they are gods,” Jonathan says.
“Nah, just rich. Really rich. That’s what happens when you have three thousand years to build a stock portfolio.” I glance at Connolly. “Let’s grab the tea caddy and head in.”
* note to readers: yes, I’ve flip-flopped between “Vanessa set the appointment” and “Vanessa did not set the appointment.” It’ll all be cleaned up in edits. That’s what happens when you read a first draft—I’m still working out specifics. 🙂