Smoke and Ritual
Flipping through my copy of the Sang Magi spell book, I turned to the potion section again, desperate to understand what I was doing wrong…but all the ingredient names seemed to blur together. Not even the most sacred book of magic could help me. It was useless. I tossed it on the floor and buried my head in my hands.
A sharp pain seared between my temples and I rifled through my desk for a calming elixir. My ears tingled. Just when I thought I could finally relax, the silent comfort of my room was interrupted by a burst of frantic voices, echoing throughout the halls. This time of night was always so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. What the hell was going on out there?
Folding my wings back into my shoulders, I crept to the door and pressed my cheek against it. The brisk shuffling of feet was paired with gasps and whispers. With my ear still on the door, I reached for my hoodie and pulled it on, always careful to keep my back covered. Even with my wings hidden, two distinct black lines were etched into my shoulder blades, thick and somewhat raised like a freshly inked tattoo. The footsteps in the hall intensified, a mixture of heavy boots and pointy heels thudding against the floor with urgency. I threw open the door just as Sapphire came bumbling toward me, breathless.
“Arya! Something’s happening. Everyone’s heading toward the library. C’mon, let’s go.” She tugged at my wrist.
I let her drag me down the hall. “Hold on. Slow down. Why is everyone freaking out?” Faces full of shock and awe whipped past us.
She spun around, full stop, and faced me, almost knocking me back. “Chaos is here.”
“The god?” I couldn’t have heard her right. Maybe I drank too much of that calming elixir.
“No, the rock star. Yes, the god. We need to hurry and get in there.” Her grip tightened around my wrist as we followed the frenzied crowd toward the Library of Covens.
My heart pounded. The gods didn’t leave Elysium unless the fate of humanity depended on it. At least that was what happened the last time. The only time actually. Gray had convinced Chaos to help her fight in the Blood War against Cerberus, the guardian of the Underworld. But we were in an age of peace now. Why was he here?
Wow.. I'm not even going to waste your time building up to whether or not this book is worth reading.. it absolutely is. If you like family drama, mystery, or contemporary works with depth of any kind, you should give 'The Island Girls' by Noelle Harrison a read. Today. Seriously, the links are below.
Normally, I'm not typically into childhood centric stories about the bonds of youth. You might assume I have a chilly nature.. and to a degree you might be right. But I also grew up an only child with very few kids in my personal life at all. Mostly, I grew up around adults and a couple of other kids like me.. who were more like smaller, less experienced adults. None of us really knew how to be children.
Reading this book, I feel like that's how it was for Susannah too.. albeit for far more serious reasons.
Taking place on a remote island called Vinalhaven off the coast of Maine, the narrative alternates between a timeline between the mid-50's to mid-60's where a pair of sisters were coming of age and 2011, Susannah still lives, but Kate is now long gone.. and a young Irish palliative care nurse named Emer has arrived to help out through the end stages of her cancer.
Like Susannah and Kate, Emer is one half of a tragically broken pair. Her sister Orla, having died about a month prior also to cancer, has left her feeling guilty for not being with her at the end. So, through this commitment to Susannah, she hopes to make it up to her own sister.
What starts out as a languidly paced tale about the pitfalls of the island mindset they grew up with, turns gradually into a starkly shaded story of dreadful intuitions and trauma.
Their lives, especially once Kate becomes enthralled with a local fisherman, become a bit of a slow rolling storm. Even miles out at sea.. you can tell it's going to be devastating sooner or later.
Interestingly enough, Harrison blind-sided me with an event fairly late into the book, when I'd settled into an easy sense of security.. much like the characters in her story. I had been casually reading from the beginning, as I always do with mysteries, with a pretty decent expectation as to where it was all leading.
Mind you, some of those expectations were correct, but only the least of them and not remotely in the way I originally believed they would be.
From the event forward, my entire perspective changed. It shocked me so much that I re-read the first lines as it happened, three or four times in a row.. just stunned.
After that, I started to make logic leaps that I never would have early on in the book. My imagination even went a bit wild, admittedly.. as some of my leaps I realized quickly made no sense, though I still wondered as to the possibility of them.
Ultimately, I did understand most of what was barreling down upon me as a reader, before it happened.. but not long before and that result was far more satisfying than anything I normally experience with a title like this.
The author does a beautiful job of telling the tale through a series of letters interspersed between standard narratives told by both Susannah and Emer. And the two pairs of sisters lives almost mirror each others in a way, building an amazing foundation for the connection forming between the main characters. She elegantly sprinkles information throughout the book.. connecting more and more dots until you can see the entire painful picture she has painted.
Noelle Harrison is a writer to watch. She brought me to tears and I'm not even mad about it. She earned them. I can't wait to read more of her work.
'Prince of Never,' the first book in the Black Blood Fae series, is a story about a city girl with a special voice who happens to be the fated mate of a Fae royal cursed to die a slow, painful death.
Ever, the Prince of Air, is heir to the throne and carries the brutal Black Blood curse. When Lara falls into Faery, he's the one who finds her. Initially mistaking her for a troll or goblin of some kind, upon discovering she's human, he sets them both on a journey back to his home and his mother the Queen.
"The cold bites through gaps in shiny armor, nibbling around snug leather, but it doesn't matter; his veins are already filled with icy winter.
Why, then, does he shiver?"
In Faery apparently, finders keepers extends to people.. and as that makes her his.. despite his distaste for mortals, it's up to his court what to do with her. Unfortunately for Lara, there are others in the realm who either wish to possess her or see her dead.
I really loved the concept of the story and in the hands of a more experienced author, I could have loved it. The curse is creative, even though the trope is the common enemies-to-lovers. The magic is nothing new, but I did enjoy the composition of the fae paired with elementals.
Like the plot, the characters are a bit underdeveloped, but again.. they have all the makings of greatness.
Our dark prince is the usual broody sort (though I love them, they're my favorites).. but at least he has the excuse of being influenced by the curse, as it changes their temperments while it progresses. He's haughty, self-important, and just a bit wicked. He's prone to nearly constant dark moods, but there are moments where that softer side peeks out. He's also the most well filled-out character in the book.
Lara is.. different. She swings between charming and annoying.. between a quivering puddle of girlish fear and a raging force of stubborn determination.. all within seconds. The moment she's not being subdued in some way, she automatically starts issuing commands. She's not a two-dimensional character, she's a character that isn't defined at all.
I did love Balor and Jinn, the prince's wolfhound and steed. And his younger brother Rafael (Raff) was an adorable troublemaker with a kind heart.
"..how does one understand the cruelty of the night sky, unfathomable in its limitless blackness?"
There was a small thing that just drove me crazy on a personal level. I don't even know how to explain it to you, but instead of the usual introspective descriptions that people might use to reference themselves.. there would occasionally be moments where their words sounded far more like someone else might use to describe them.
If you asked me what color my eyes were, I'd say brown. Maybe dark brown. If you asked me to tell you about my personality, I might say I can be abrasive.
What I wouldn't say.. is that I have "mossy-green eyes"... and "a quick laugh." Nor would I refer to my own smile as sneering with those "wickedly, kissable lips." Things like that sound so strange coming from the person they're meant to describe. In part because there's a sense of emotion to them.. of admiration.. which is far more prone to someone observing them. It happened a few times in the book and everytime I grimaced.
Some of the transitions are rough too. There's one scene that literally shifts from a soft, almost dreamy question from one character.. to the narrator saying "I pull his face to mine and attack his mouth with gusto." There are definitely gaps in emotional understanding.
There's a lot of convenience to move the story along, but there were also a couple of scenes I truly enjoyed. One was a sword fight and another was an intimate evening of sorts. In the end, I'm left feeling conflicted.. but Ever (or Never, as Lara calls him.. to annoy him).. is almost enjoyable enough to almost carry the novel for me.
"This could be the reason I think of nothing else but the constellation of stars on your cheeks, wondering what other galaxies I will find billowing on your skin."
I do think Juno has a lot of potential, sheerly from a creative standpoint.. but much of her writing comes across as lacking maturity. Structurally, she knows how to get from point A to point B. She understands the building blocks of storytelling, but she could use a lot of study in language itself and the psychology of characterizations. Also, there's almost a forced feeling of an attempt at creating taglines within the work.. or built-in quotes, but the most quotable lines were elsewhere.
As I said, I'm conflicted. I didn't hate it and I didn't love it. It was all right. I wouldn't recommend it, but I'd also maybe give another title of hers a try in a few years and see if she's grown.
Brass Knuckles & Tattered Wings, Season One
This serial is written like a TV series—four novellas of 25,000 words, each with their own little storyline yet all substantiating a bigger underlying story arc and character development.
Expected release of episode 1 is in the summer of 2020.
Each new episode of the season will follow every month.
Brass Knuckles & Tattered Wings is an action-packed story that also holds a lot of humor, pokes at emotions, and looks at a new kind of vigilante hero with his heart in the right place.
What reader would enjoy this?
If you enjoyed The Equalizer, The Punisher, and Boondock Saints, then this serial is definitely for you.
After a freak accident killed his wife and son, Pritchard slipped into alcoholism to drown his sorrows at a blue-collar bar nearby to avoid the dead and empty house. But then a teenage girl asked for his help, and it turned his entire existence around.
Best Foot Forward #1 blurb
After a freak accident kills his wife and son, Pritchard slips into alcoholism at a blue-collar bar nearby to avoid the dead and empty house.
A teenage girl sometimes comes into the bar to try to get her drunkard dad to come home, but it rarely works. One day, in his intoxicated state, Pritchard accidentally trips over her scooter, and something breaks. He promises the distraught girl to pay for it, but she’s used to being lied to by drunk men. To follow through, he gives her his business card.
A few days later, she calls him out of the blue, afraid, begging for his help. Her dad has run into a card game with bad people, and the debt collectors aren’t stopping with him.
The selfless act of responding to the young girl’s plea upends his world, leaving him only one way out: A walk in life he knows well, but one he left for his wife. A life of crime.
Best foot forward, she’d always said. That was how she urged a man with a spotted past to strive to become a good man.
The only question now is whether going backward can also bring someone forward.
Unedited excerpt can be found here: https://martinsvolgart.com/best-foot-forward-excerpt/
About the Author
Martin Svolgart is 40 years old, a single dad, companion to the Rottweiler Heimdal, nature lover, amateur photographer, coffee lover, and a geek!
What fascinates Martin Svolgart the most about writing is the possibility to look into the minds of the characters during the various situations they’re put in.
In his books, you get a look into the fundamentals of a person.
What can bring out the worst in a person? What can bring out the best?
The human eye can detect 256 shades of gray. The answer to what is good and what is evil has to be explored in the balance between those extremes of individualism. Thus, his protagonists are never just good, and the antagonists are never just evil. They can even admit to themselves that they’re fucked up.
Martin Svolgart’s books thus explore what balances pull them toward being one or the other, or what can push them to change, grow, and evolve.
One thing is for sure: No matter which of his books you pick up, you’ll never find good versus evil in any clear-cut black/white fashion, and you will always find action.
Martin Svolgart is a smith by trade, but he went back to college to study some more. Psychology, among other subjects.
Where to find more: https://linktr.ee/MartinSvolgart
'The Wise Friend' by the legendary horror author, Ramsey Campbell, is one of those dark, creeping tales that you can feel coming from around the corner. Instinctively, you know that just ahead out of sight, something bad awaits.. and you feel both averse to discovering what it is and in a hurry to get it over with.
This book is that scraping sound of something sharp.. but ragged.. being drawn along the inside of your walls as you pace along the outside listening.
It has been so many years since I've read a Ramsey Campbell story, I'd forgotten what it was truly like. I'd retained the summary of feelings. His name continued to stand out in my head as a hugely influential master of horror.. having helped shape my taste in the genre as a teen, but I'd never read a full novel of his that I can recall. They'd always been short stories included in other anthologies. Though, even here.. he'd been impactful.
I certainly wasn't disappointed by this title either, which is loosely about the story of a man who'd discovered as a teen that his aunt at the time had possibly been visiting magical sites which had affected her paintings in a startling way. Now, years later as an adult, his son and his son's girlfriend have become fascinated with the late aunt's work and both have been going back and visiting those sites themselves.
The result is a slow build of cold fear, the kind you want to turn the lights on and chase away. Even as you begin to see what's actually happening about midway through the novel, you realize that isn't really what matters. The story is definitely about the journey and the helplessness you feel along the way.. the absolute uncertainty as to how things will turn out at the end, despite the wealth of knowledge you've garnered.
I've seen mentioned, here and there, that this book is difficult to get into.. but I challenge that statement. What initially gives that impression is the sheer density of Campbell's writing style. Though the story is of average length, there's so much more depth packed into the occurances than one typically sees in modern fiction.
Reading 'The Wise Friend' was like flexing a muscle I rarely use.. like re-learning the motor functions of a limb that's been numb for too long. It made me realize how much current works have just made me a bit of a lazy reader. Even compared to my science or philosophy titles, things are just written in a much simpler, more direct manner today.. and Campbell still knows how to weave a tale expertly in that traditional structure.
If you're a fan of classic 20th century horror authors like Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, and Richard Matheson, you do not want to miss this book. It's a fantastic glimpse of what the strength of a writer can really exemplify. There's less time spent on how a character looks and dresses to fill a page.. and more time invested in how they make others feel.. how those others might be affected by their very surroundings.. even their own memories.. at times.
Honestly, I can't say enough good things about this book. I have been humbled by reading it and feel as if I'll look on modern horror stories with refreshed eyes.
“This thing we got… I told you, it won’t be easy.”
“Nothing good is ever easy, Isaac.”
There was a pause as unasked questions hovered around us. I considered what life would be like with Isaac, that no matter how committed we might be to our relationship, we could not exist in a vacuum. Struggles would follow us wherever we went, and would spill out to our families, our loved ones, our friends.
He waited. Although Isaac was the one who moved with caution, the one who refused to assume that the easy road would be ours to travel, he waited for me to come to a decision. He wanted me to say yes, but wouldn’t ask the question. He would not lead me anywhere, but would be waiting for me when I arrived—if I didn’t turn back.
“Isaac?” He nodded again and brought me closer. His cheeks were wide, his features strong and he closed his eyes, as though he relished the feel of my fingertips over his face. “Will you love me? No matter what happens?”
Isaac pulled me around him, holding me against his large body, his hand around my waist. His voice was quiet, but filled with strength, with conviction. “Always.”
No one had touched me like Isaac. He had a way about him, something real and honest that was assured by his long, perfect fingers down my back and the slip of his tongue inside my mouth. There was no fear, not when those fingers gripped me tighter, when he slowly lowered my zipper and held my hand as I stepped out of my dress.
He watched me then, and even though a different Riley might have been shy, I liked the way his stare felt against my bare skin. It was me he wanted, only me; only I could sate his hunger, redeem that desperate look that had caught him in a silent pause.
Isaac still held my hand, arm extended with that hard, greedy gaze working over me. He made me feel needed, wanted, he made me feel necessary. And when he pulled my hand to rest it against his heart, I held my breath, waiting to hear what he thought, hoping he wanted me as much as I wanted him. “My sweet… my beautiful Riley.”
He stepped back, my fingers trailing away from his chest, and tugged off his shirt, dropping it to the floor, instantly forgotten. Isaac picked me up and carried me to the bed, divesting me of everything that kept me covered, and everything that kept him hidden from me.
I had never seen a naked man before. I’d never been naked with a man before. But there I lay on Isaac’s large bed covered by his long legs and muscular thighs, my small frame underneath him, open to him as he took control and showed me what it meant to be loved.
“You and me, Riley, there’s nothing but this. Nothing else but this, how we are right now.”
Isaac never spoke much of his feelings, the things that rocked his soul, the many worries that kept him up at night. Maybe he didn’t know how to say he loved me, but just then, with Isaac’s warm, solid body right against mine, skin to skin, touching me like no one ever had before, I decided words weren’t all that important.
“Nothing else, my love. Nothing else at all.”
"You're leaving us?" Hermes asked. "What happened to sisters before misters?"
Persephone rolled her eyes. "Hermes, in case you haven't noticed, you're a mister."
"I can be a sister!" he argued, more vehemently than she expected.
'A Touch of Ruin' is book two in the 'Hades & Persephone' series by Scarlett St. Clair. I have already purchased the first, though I haven't read it yet, because I genuinely enjoyed this one and don't want to miss anything. Besides, the next book, 'A Touch of Malice,' is already in the works and I'll need to be ready.. something big is coming..
I've always loved the story of Hades and Persephone. I know by most accounts it's really the story of an abduction and trickery while keeping a captive wife, but I've a bit of a soft spot for Hades. It can't be an easy job, it's surely often thankless.. and while his brothers got glory and adoration, he got darkness and isolation. Disdain even.. though without him, mythologically speaking, the balance would have tipped to chaos.. and he's certainly not in the habit of damaging people for little to no reason, as is so common with his brother Zeus.
For me, this is a little bit of what someone might call a guilty pleasure read. There are things happening around them certainly and there is progress along a timeline which implies a story is being told, but everything that happens just seems to be about showcasing their interactions.. more than following a plot and the two of them reacting naturally. I know that probably sounds a bit confusing, but it just feels like they are the focus and any bits of story that happen to be in the novel are just secondary.
The thing is, I also didn't care. I loved seeing how they felt about each other and I want more.
Hades shook his head. "We do not make up for hurt with hurt, Persephone. That is a god's game--we are lovers."
"Then how do we make up for hurt?" she asked.
"With time," he answered. "If we can be comfortable being angry with one another for a little while."
Hades is this dark, beautiful representation of a God I've always been intrigued with. He's full of power and passion and occasionally unmitigated rage. He can be tender or he can be ice cold, but there's often a glimpse of one while you're looking at the other. He's never one-dimensional and I love that. As for steam factor, he's about a 15 on a 1 to 10 scale. He's right up my alley, even if there's an overuse of "darling" at times I think based on his character, might be filled with more colorful language.
Deep down he's fearful of Persephone seeing too much darkness in him and turning away, which results in him guarding his secrets closely. So closely that they only come out one-by-one often at the hands of another, which she doesn't take very well.
He sighed. "I wanted time to think about how to show you my sins. To explain their roots. Instead, it seems, everyone wishes to do it for me."
Though Persephone's reactions to some things are understandable, she drives me a little crazy. I understand to a degree why she's unaware of certain things, but she's bratty at times and she just doesn't listen to anyone. Her path constantly leads her into trouble because she's unwilling or unable to accept anything that doesn't go the way she wants it to and unfortunately, that makes Hades path rocky too.
Things are definitely unnecessarily more difficult for them because of her stubborn nature and complete lack of restraint. She makes me mad. That doesn't mean I don't like her. It means I get how he feels, she frustrates me.. but she means well. She's kind and loving, she's warm and caring. Ultimately, she just wants everyone to live their best life. It's impossible to hate that. But wow can she be trying on the nerves.
Zofie drew her blade. "Release her or feel my wrath!"
Hermes laughed. "Where did you get her?"
Persephone sighed. "Zofie, put that away."
"Wherever you go, I must go too, Lady Persephone," she glared at Hermes. "To protect you."
Hermes was still laughing. "She knows I'm a god, right?"
Honorable mention has to go to Hermes though. He's a delightfully wicked God of Trickery, but a good and genuine friend. He's loyal, funny, and only slightly removed from his reality by his godhood. He's pretty good at seeing both sides of any situation and he made me laugh frequently.
This was definitely just what I needed. There's enough going on to keep me interested, there are some emotional moments, but it was a light enjoyable.. even sexy.. read. Most of the conclusion was a little fast, but again. I don't care. I had a blast.
"If there be a person alive with more power than myself, then over time circumstances shall eventually degrade until, inevitably, I am their slave. And if our situations were to be reversed, then they shall inevitably become mine.
-- Crasedes Magnus"
'Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy #2)' by Robert Jackson Bennett is a deep-dive fantasy novel about a sort of hobbled together group of rebels, bound by the struggles they've shared and a communal desire to free others like themselves. Though I didn't read the first book in the series, I had no trouble picking this one up and settling right into what was going on.
In a world where people rely heavily on the art of scriving-- the act of imbuing everyday objects with sentience and permissions they wouldn't normally have by nature's rules, there comes a battle between two godlike figures. Crasedes Magnus, the first of the great hierophants and Valeria, the construct who defeated him in their last conflict.. were both left too damaged to affect the changes they intended without help.
Our protagonist is a spitfire named Sancia Grado, who just so happens to be able to physically see the logic of the scrivings sunken into the objects around her and interact with them, convincing them to do things they aren't meant to. She's rough around the edges, she's amusingly sarcastic at times, but she's also capable of great love and loyalty. It just doesn't usually look like what we might expect from a heroine.
"I remember the plan," said Sancia. "I just also remember there's a lot of spots in the plan that say, 'Sancia improvises a bunch of s***.' Which is not, you know, comforting."
Accompanied by her girlfriend Berenice (together, the two referred to as The Muses), the old scriver Orso (who left the Founding Houses and struck out on his own in an attempt to bring technology more equally to the people), and Gregor (the son of one of the Founding Houses.. and a broken thing in his own right), Sancia intends to put a stop to Crasedes as well. Their relationships are all rather beautifully complex. Each carrying their own baggage as they try to alleviate those same agonies in those around them.
As a team, they're a well-oiled machine. They complement each other's skills and temperments, and really.. this is what I find is the core thread through the story. It's a tale about taking on the greatest of odds together. While of course, that is no guarantee of success, Bennett certainly shows the reader how much stronger they are because of their common goals and willingness to put each other first.
"We are all keepers of a secret flame, lighting the way forward."
"Not a flame, I think," he said. "A spark. We intend to start an inferno."
"Yet fires do not care about who they burn."
As great as Sancia is, it's Gregor I find myself drawn to. He's the tragic beauty. It doesn't matter that he's a deadly warrior, that he's covered in scars, and emotionally cold and distant much of the time. There's still something elegant about him, he just feels so lost to me all the time.
I have some minor complaints, of course I do.
Understandably, Bennett's ideas are complex. The very theory of scriving itself is fascinating and in their world it's everywhere. It's used for defenses, both personal and geographical, but it's also used for everyday work. Irrigation. Light. Construction. Every part of their world has been touched by it, maybe not improved.. but progression is not always improvement, is it?
Despite the complexity of the concepts, in my opinion he goes a bit overboard with the information dumps about how everything works. It's constant. Explain a few things to me so I get how it works in theory and then focus on the story itself. Whatever. The result was it made the book a bit more of a trudge than it needed to be, but it also didn't seem to weaken his work on the characters, plot, or relationships at all. So, it's just a personal preference. I would have liked less of that.
Also, I would have liked less easy answers. With Sancia able to look at any scrived rig, see exactly how it works and how to manipulate it, that's borderline convenient already. But add in the all knowing beings and the ways they find to share information as they move toward their goals, it's just a bit too much. I really dislike everything being able to be explained in a flash of knowledge at every turn.
"What a thing, to wish to be unmade," he thought. "To yearn to open up one's skull and allow all the bindings there to come unspooling out like lengths of wire..."
Ultimately, none of my small protests matter. The story is gripping. I was invested from the start and remained so throughout. Most of the book has no real time for emotion. That isn't to say the characters don't experience them, they're just pressed for time, pressed for action.. they cannot just still and let themselves crumble. There are moments however, that I found incredibly moving.
While the tension ramped up and time seemed fleeting, every decision became that much more crucial. Reveals, long foreshadowed and slow to come to fruition, made harsh impacts.. both on the characters and the reader. I was deeply unhappy with how certain events unfolded.. and I'm absolutely certain that is exactly why they were the right choices. The author left me feeling as bereft and broken as those within his story seemed to be.. and I can't wait for him to do it again.
Come on.. book 3..
A Touch of Ruin
Demetri must have felt her staring because he finally looked up from his tablet, the article he was reading reflected off his black-framed glasses. She noted the title. It was another piece about her.
“Persephone. Please, come in. Close the door.”
That stone in her stomach was suddenly heavier. Shutting herself in Demetri’s office was like walking right back into her mother’s greenhouse—anxiety built, and she felt fear at the thought of being punished. Her skin grew hot and uncomfortable, her throat constricted, her tongue thickened…she was going to suffocate.
This is it. She thought. He is going to fire me.
She found herself frustrated that he was drawing it out. Why invite her to sit? Act like it had to be a conversation?
She took a deep breath and sat on the edge of her chair.
“What did you do?” she asked, glancing at the pile of newspapers. “Pick one up on every block?”
“Couldn’t help it,” he said, smirking. “The story was fascinating.”
“Did you need something?” she asked finally, hoping to change the subject—hoping that the reason he called her into his office had nothing to do with this morning’s headlines.
“Persephone,” Demetri said, and she cringed at the gentle tone his voice had taken. Whatever was coming, it wasn’t good. “You have a lot of potential and you have proven you’re willing to fight for the truth, which I appreciate.”
He paused and her body stayed tense, preparing for the blow he was about to deliver.
“But,” she said, guessing the direction of this conversation.
Demetri looked even more sympathetic.
“You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to,” he said.
She blinked, brows furrowing. “Ask what?”
“For an exclusive. On your relationship with Hades.”
The dread crawled up her stomach, and spread, sizzling in her chest and lungs and she felt the heat abruptly leave her face.
“Why do you have to ask?” Her voice was tight, and she tried to stay calm, but her hands were already shaking and squeezing her coffee cup.
“You said you wouldn’t ask if you didn’t have to,” she stopped him. She was tired of him saying her name. Tired of how long it was taking him to get to the point. “So why are you asking?”
“It came from the top,” he answered. “It was very clear that you either offer us your story or you don’t have a job here anymore.”
“The top?” she echoed, and paused for a moment, searching for a name. After a moment, it came to her. “Kal Stavros?”
Kal Stavros was a mortal. He was the CEO of Epik Communications—which owned New Athens News. Persephone didn’t know much about him except that he was a tabloid favorite. Mostly, because he was beautiful—his name literally meant crowned the most beautiful.
“Why would the CEO request an exclusive?”
“It’s not every day the girlfriend of the God of the Dead works for you,” Demetri said. “Everything you touch will turn to gold.”
“Then let me write something else,” she said. “I have a voicemail and an inbox full of leads.”
It was true. The messages had started pouring in the moment she published her first article on Hades. She’d slowly been sorting through them, organizing them into folders based on the god they criticized. She could write about any Olympian, even her mother.
“You can write something else,” Demetri said. “But I’m afraid we’ll still need that exclusive.”
“You can’t be serious,” was all she could think to say, but Demetri’s expression told her otherwise. She tried again. “This is my personal life.”
Her boss’s eyes dropped to the stack of papers on his desk.
“And it became public.”
“I thought you said you would understand if I wanted to cease writing about Hades?”
She noted that Demetri’s shoulders fell, and it made her feel better that he was at least a little defeated by this, too.
“My hands are tied, Persephone,” he answered.
There was a stretch of silence, and then she asked, “That’s it? I have no say in this?”
“You have your choices. I need the article by next Friday.”
A Touch of Malice