This is the full length book that follows my story The Gods Defense. I’m still working on a title so for now it’s just #2. I want to know what you think of the beginning. Do I explain too much? Too little? Is there enough to keep you interested and wanting to read more? What’s your first impression of the characters and their relationship?
The waves sloshed up on the beach ten feet down from my lounge chair, a soothing balm on the burning soft, white sand. That intoxicating strong smell of water and minerals you only get from the ocean washed over me with the fruit tinted breeze.
The cast from Spring-Break, Yuppie Edition played volleyball down the beach, squealing loud enough for the sound to carry over our low radio playing some bouncy pop music. Mom’s choice. I’m a little more country.
I peeked over my e-reader at my mom. She was sitting up on her chair, sipping something alcoholic and fruity through a Skittle-colored straw almost absentmindedly, attention locked on the latest action adventure James Rollins, her eyes jerking back and forth so fast it looked like she was in open-eyed REM sleep. Not even the kids screaming as their ball flew off into the surf un-glued her eyeballs.
We had to get back to the hotel and gussied up for my conference dinner tonight, but I could give her another five minutes… or fifteen. Neither of us had seen a beach in nearly ten years. Mom had her seven years in a coma as an excuse. Me, not so much.
Either way it was way too long because the beach was awesome!
“I couldn’t agree more,” a voice said next to me.
“AHHH!” I jumped out of my chair, whirling, hand pressed to my chest.
Apollo flashed his movie star teeth in what could only be described as a wolfish grin. He’d scared me and liked it. His buttery curls bouncing back the afternoon sun and his tan made him look like any other twenty something vacationing. The eyes blinking up at me were dark purple, the only hint of the god inside the innocuous package.
And if his smile was wolfish, it couldn’t catch up to the predatory gleam in those eyes even if it hijacked a 747. I’d felt like prey since the day I met him. Me working with him didn’t diminish the feeling.
Being prey didn’t sit well with me.
“Apollo.” I put on my prosecutor’s voice, crossing my arms. “What the hell are you doing here?”
He rose from his chair, which hadn’t been there a second before, and I could feel my face heating up. And not from the Florida sun. He was in black swim trunks and nothing else, all lean muscle a little too perfectly proportioned to be real.
Annnnnnnnd I was in a cotton candy blue bikini, all my hourglass curves and peaches and cream skin on display to be admired and leered at.
Which was what I was going for when I bought it… just not from Apollo. He looked me up and down, making my skin prickle.
“Cassandra?” Mom asked, making me jump again. Apparently screaming could drag her out of her book. “Is this Apollo your boss Apollo?”
“Not my boss.” I grabbed the towel off my chair and wrapped it around me, making Apollo smirk. “Wendy Berry, the pain in the ass who acts like he’s my boss, yes there’s a reason you haven’t met him till now. Apollo, my mom.”
“You talk to a god that way?” Mom asked. “A god. An actual magical being, and I’m still getting used to that being outside fiction, god. And you… you weren’t kidding when you said… well.” Her gesture went from his head to his feet.
Mom sighed the world weary sigh of a mother with a… well, a pain in the ass daughter, and held out her hand over my chair. Apollo took it. One hundred percent the professional despite the swim wear. “It is wonderful to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Ms. Berry.”
“Oh please, a god gets to call me Wendy.”
“Well alright then,” he gave a little bow over her hand before releasing it, “Wendy.”
Don’t even think about hitting on my mom, I thought at him.
Of course not, he thought back. I’m being friendly. Trust me, you are more than enough of a handful. I could feel his psychic gaze sweeping down my chest and over my hips even through the towel. Two handfuls.
Me? You don’t have me. Not happening.
Oh come on, I’m growing on you.
Like a fungus?
I’ve seen the way you eat mushrooms, I will gladly be a fungus to you.
Okay, now I was definitely blushing.
This took all of three seconds. Mind-speak is about ten times faster than normal conversation.
“Wendy, would you mind terribly if I stole your daughter away? I actually did come here for business.” He gestured down at his body. “Despite what the swim trucks may suggest. I’m just trying to blend in.” He winked. “Can’t have people swarming me when I’m trying to speak with my lawyer.”
“I’m not your lawyer,” I said for the hundredth time since I’d gone to work “for” him.
“Huh?” Mom asked.
“I’m a criminal attorney, Mom. I’m not his lawyer, as in he’s my client. I’m not even his corporation’s lawyer like an in-house attorney. He treats me like one but I’m not. I’m not allowed to be.” I raised my eyebrows at him with not a little bit of mocking.
I’d gotten a slap on the wrist from the Board of Professional Responsibility mere weeks after going to work for him because of that arrangement. I’d had to set up a solo practice and take on Apollo’s people like any other clients.
Our deal had been I’d work for him, so Apollo had been pisssssssssed when he couldn’t make me stay in his employ without risking my becoming disbarred due to the ethical breaches surrounding an “organization” (because that’s how the law was treating the gods’ little cults) having a criminal attorney loyal to the organization and not the individual being charged.
I would’ve kissed the Board members for the reprimand if they wouldn’t have found it highly suspect.
“I’m a solo practitioner and Apollo hires me to defend the people in his…” cult, “organization who are charged with crimes. Apollo keeps me on retainer and pays for his people’s defense costs.”
“What’s the difference?” Mom asked.
“There is no difference,” Apollo said.
I smirked at him. “The difference is, he’s not my boss, he just refers his people to me and foots the bill for them. I’m self-employed.” And managed to keep some semblance of independence after making my deal with the “devil” to go work for him.
But Mom didn’t need to know that.
It’d make her ask what I got out of the deal.
“The government gets to hire their own lawyers to do criminal law,” Apollo said in a teasing tone to Mom. “I don’t see why I can’t.”
“You don’t see the difference between you and a sovereign government? Why do I believe you?” Not to mention the government prosecuted criminals and he wanted his defended.
Apollo waved me off. “Wendy, this is very rude of me, but would you mind if I stole your seat at the conference and dinner tonight as well? I am trying to learn more about law here and my weekend just opened up.”
Can you say presumptuous! “But Mom’s,” I started.
“I, of course, would not leave you to entertain yourself,” Apollo bulldozed right over me. “I brought one of my friends specifically to keep you company since I am very rudely taking yours. He is ready to take you to dinner and then will come back to the beach with you, whatever. I thought it would be more fun for you than a stuffy law conference.”
“Now, wait a flipping sec…”
“It’s Max York, I believe Cassandra said you two have met and got along quite well.”
I closed my mouth fast as purple and pink flutters shot out of my mom like a butterfly swarm. When I didn’t even have to try to see the emotions, you knew they were strong.
What are you doing? I asked so fast my brain couldn’t follow it.
I actually need you to skip the dinner. You have a new client. He needs to speak with you tonight.
I do not wish to alarm your mother. And this matter requires discretion. Also, you do know Eros claimed Orlando and all of middle Florida as his territory? I am merely helping him along in his joyous task.
You’re up to something.
Yes, playing match-maker.
“Yes, we have. That is fine with me,” Mom said, grinning the wide, chipmunk grin I got from her. “No offense, sweetie.” She turned towards me. “The dinner sounded great, but I wasn’t really looking forward to a day of lectures on the law tomorrow.”
She leaned in. Ha! Like a god wouldn’t be able to hear her whisper. “This way you two can have some time together.”
“He put my office next to his damn theater and pops in on a daily basis. We have way too much time together,” I whispered to humor her.
“He’s handsome, clearly intelligent and he’s magical like you. Stop being so…”
Apparently there wasn’t a word for what I was being.
“Well, you,” she finally said. “He flirts with you. It’s not like he’s harassing you.”
“That’s exactly what dropping in unwanted continuously and bugging someone is.”
“It’s not harassment if you enjoy it.” She gave me a knowing look.
I pointed a finger. “That depends.”
Every lawyer’s favorite go to answer.
Mom sighed. “Such a lawyer.” She kissed me on the forehead, grabbed her bag and book and skedaddled up the sand, shouting over her shoulder, “Have fun, tell Max I’ll meet him in an hour in the hotel lobby.”
I shook my head and faced Apollo with my arms crossed. “Sooooo, what’s this client that needs a lawyer on a Friday evening?”
He smiled, walking around my chair. “You sound skeptical, Cassandra.”
“You got me and my mom separate rooms for this conference and now suddenly we have a fantastic reason to split up and you just happen to have a date to keep her occupied? The two rooms weren’t just because you could afford it and like to pamper your employees,” I put up air quotes, “were they?”
“When I offered you this trip, complete with hotel rooms, meals, the cost of the conference, and transportation, you were not complaining.”
“I am now.”
“Because I brought a date for your mother?”
“No, because you brought man-candy to distract her so you could have a date with me.”
“Oh. You thought the two hotel rooms was for that? No no, those were for your mother to have one to herself. Just in case.”
Can you say convenient?
“You book this trip last month, with two hotel rooms, and yet you have a client I must talk to tonight, and somebody to keep Mom company. Does that math sound right to you?”
“I may have exaggerated how recently I decided to have Max make this trip.” He stopped right in front of me. “Cassandra,” he put his hands on my arms lightly, “I promised you last year, I would not try anything until you asked me to. You know as well as anyone gods do not make promises lightly, nor do we break them.”
He stared down into my eyes a little too intently. I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t pick up a little. But, I mean, the man was a god.
A seriously diminished in power god since him and most of his kind lost most of their power at the last solstice to fight off a curse. He’d recruited me for my power, not just for the extra juice I could give him to help that day, but also for afterwards. Because I was just a battery that got tapped and lent my power for nine days, recharging to full strength every night. Apollo and most of the other gods were permanently crippled, maybe at a tenth of what they were before. Making them above the most powerful humans, but only just.
Which would’ve been fine if thirty-six of the gods didn’t welch on their deal at the last minute, keeping all their magic and a serious advantage over everybody else.
And yeah, I was trying to think of anything else but his eyes on mine, because they weren’t going anywhere.
“And I do have a client you must get back to represent.”
“Go back! Tonight?”
That worked as a good distraction. I shook him off.
“Of course. How did you think you would meet with him?”
“Skype, phone, emails, I don’t know.” My hands flew, talking right along with me. “I can’t just leave my mom here.”
Apollo gave me a look. “She is a grown woman, not a fifteen year old sneaking into a Spring Break party. I think she can care for herself.”
“But… how? I don’t have my flight till Monday or anything packed or…”
“Cassandra.” He put a finger on my lips. “We will go back through Olympus, you will speak with him, do your lawyer magic to get him out of jail or bailed or a hearing, whatever it is you do, and be back here by midnight. We will go to your conference and your mother will have a fun, hopefully romantic, weekend and you’ll fly back like a human on Monday as planned.”
“I am human.” I sounded petulant even to myself.
“Of course,” he said so fast I knew he didn’t mean it. He’d hinted I wasn’t human the night I finally agreed (been bribed) to work for him, but hadn’t said anything else on the subject in the six months since. “I am a god, though.”
* * *
An hour later I was showered, dressed in a suit and lightly made-up.
Apollo was kicked back on the king sized bed when I came out of the bathroom, CNN playing on the flat screen TV and a laptop holding his gaze. He was back in his usual uniform of a suit and bright tie, black and pink respectively. I like to think of it as business-hot.
“I still can not believe the turn technology took while we slept,” he said without looking away from the screen. “I’m still sorting through how it all came about. Five thousand years and humans lost the knowledge they had under us, clawed their way back to structured civilizations, lost massive amounts of knowledge again and plunged into a thousand years of suppressing knowledge, then it burst forth again and again. And these last just over a hundred years… flying, space travel, computers, the internet! We never conceived of technology like this.”
He looked up at me then, all wide eyes and excited smile. With his buttery curls he looked like a kid getting his first bike.
“It’s amazing. Look.” He held up the computer, screen towards me showing a journal article. “They’ve made a professional journal for magic. And put it out for the world to read through technology!”
I had to smile. Apollo like this was almost a real person. “You think that’s cool? The ABA just made a magical law section. They’re putting out their debut journal next month.”
Apollo blinked at me. “I don’t understand most of what you just said.”
“American Bar Association made a group all about laws around magic. There’s a health law section, an intellectual property one, a criminal law one, and so on. Now, magic. This conference is a meeting of the criminal law one. All the sections, at least I think all, have their own journal that they put out every month or two, with articles on that area of law.”
“You’re sexy when you go all Lawyer One-Oh-One on me,” he said with no inflection, like he just said the hotel’s bed was comfy.
“So, we need to go, right? Are the cops already questioning your guy? He knows to just say he wants a lawyer then shut his mouth, right? Who is it?” I realized my hands were flying in front of me and clenched them as I reigned them in.
“Quite right.” Apollo set the laptop down and swung his legs off the bed, standing in one smooth motion maybe a dancer could have pulled off but nobody else human. “His name’s Carl Ackermann, he’s the CFO of my theater company. He’s in the hospital’s prison ward. Cops shot him during the arrest. Bad enough to get him to the hospital first. That’s all I got,” he tapped the middle of his forehead to signal this information hadn’t been obtained through a phone call, “before he passed out. I don’t even know why they arrested him.”
“Because he didn’t.” It wasn’t a question. “If they were shooting him in the takedown, he must’ve tried to run.”
Apollo snorted. A very un-godlike sound. “You put more trust in your police than I do.”
I shrugged. Not a point I could argue after working criminal law on both sides the last two years. “Well, at the very least it wasn’t for something small. Our boy’s got to be facing some serious charges.”
Apollo walked to the door and pressed his palms to it. I focused, squinting like some people do when they’re trying to see something juuuuuuust that little bit too much away. But this wasn’t for physical sight. This was for my Sight.
The door glowed. A soft lilac that faded to white as Apollo took his hands away. “Counselor.” He bowed and opened the door with a flourish.
I grinned, wrinkling my nose and shaking it at him as I walked by. There’d been a time mere months ago when I had to be knocked out and dragged into the gods’ dimension, literally. Now I visited so much I should’ve had frequent flyer miles.
The dimension was attached to the “real world,” but much smaller in a physical sense. Each group of gods attached their area of the dimension to the area of the world they ran. The Greeks had the US, so if you walked into the dimension from any of the states, you were in Olympus. You could walk a mile there and come out five hundred miles from where you started, or just a mile. It depended on things I didn’t understand… yet. So I always had to have a guide.
I went through the door and felt more than heard Apollo follow. The white light that always accompanied a trip to the gods’ dimension faded as soon as the “door” closed.
The first thing I noticed was the noise, a strange buzzing fit for horror movies about bugs ragging war against humankind filling the background.
The second was the heat.
“Where are we?” I asked, looking around.
Green. Not foresty, springtime in Nashville kind of green, a bright, poisonous green.
Heat pressed down, thicker and more oppressive than any summer even the South could whip up. The trees, vines and undergrowth were so dense around us I couldn’t see more than ten feet in any direction and the canopy above turned the world on the ground to dusk.
This wasn’t one of Olympus’s forests. This was a fucking jungle!
“Apollo?” I tried to keep the panic out of my voice.
He took my hand. I let him. “I don’t know.”
We’d crossed over into the gods dimension without a problem, so why…?
I took a deep breath through my mouth. It tasted like bad breath and old lady perfume. I took another, trying to suck enough oxygen out of the wet air to think, and pushed my half soaked hair off my forehead. My heart was already picking up like I’d just slid into a hot tub.
“We’re not in Olympus?”
“No.” Apollo scanned the mass of vegetation around us and I followed suit.
Didn’t know what the hell we were looking for, but it was better than standing there sweating.
Fat flowers like purple slugs inched up a tree to our right and in the middle of them…
Was a bright red stuffed dog that looked strangely like my favorite toy that I’d misplaced when I was eight.
What. The. Fuck?
I walked towards it without thinking and Apollo pulled me back by my hand.
“Cassandra,” he said in a low voice, “is that yours?”
“It was, I think.” I shook my head to clear the muggy air out. I couldn’t breathe! “It looks like the stuffed animal I lost when I was a kid. I was devastated for a year.”
“Anagolay. She’s a goddess of lost items from what is now the Philippines. We are in their part of the dimension.” He held my hand tighter, taking lay of the land with quick jerks of his head. “Concentrate your speed. When I say, we run. No matter what, do not let go of my hand.”
“What? Run where?” I gestured at the veggies from Hell surrounding us, hands shaking so hard I couldn’t even point.