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Battle Heat

Battle Heat

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Battle Heat

ratings:
5/5 (1 rating)
Length:
409 pages
5 hours
Released:
Sep 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781509202744
Format:
Book

Description

Holly Okeanos is alone, held against her will by the immortal that destroyed her people. Desperate for revenge, she vows to fight until her last breath to regain her freedom.The beast inside Ares must feed. His family knows darkness lies within him and they equally fear and hate him for it, but he’s the first they call when the Olympus throne is threatened. He’s struggled to control the bloodlust since the dawn of time, but only carnage sates the monster within. With an escalating rebellion and a resurrected Scarab to defeat, Ares doesn’t have time to deal with his infuriatingly beautiful captive, whose mere presence strangely calms the beast and settles his mind. She detests the very air he breathes, but he finds himself assailed by feelings that haven’t surfaced in over a millennia. Could Holly be the woman to finally quiet the beast inside him?
Released:
Sep 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781509202744
Format:
Book

About the author


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Battle Heat - Kelly L Lee

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Chapter One

Holly Okeanos opened the enormous mahogany armoire. She selected a midnight blue negligee folded in the top drawer, one of many obscenely beautiful pieces of lingerie. Two female attendants turned their backs as she unbuttoned her jeans, relishing the feel of the rough fabric on her fingers. Since visiting Earth Realm and discovering denim, Holly refused to wear the traditional gossamer gowns worn by the women in her family. Most customary ways of Titan females, especially traditions inflicted upon women, Holly found tedious. Then again, no one would describe Holly as traditional.

After stripping her favorite pair of Rock & Republic jeans from her legs, she tossed them in a corner. The name of the style, aptly labeled Skinny Bitch, made her smile every time she slid them on. The names of the colors were hysterical, as well—Hades Blue, Artemis Blue, and Destroyer Black. Humans would poop in their pants if they realized how nearly they still worshipped the gods. The next time she went to Earth Realm for a shopping trip, she planned to buy two more pairs exactly like them.

Since becoming a Custodaris, someone with the unique ability to transport herself from Realm to Realm at will, Holly embraced her new talent with gusto. She shopped on Earth Realm with abandon, returning to the Olympus Realm with overflowing bags from Saks Fifth Avenue, Calvin Klein, Gucci, and Dior.

Ares didn’t seem to care one way or the other about the clothes she wore, as long as they covered her body. She felt a scowl tense the muscles in her forehead. With a deep breath, she cleared her mind, forcing away the irritation. Ares, the Olympus God of War, was a first-rate ass, but surprisingly indulgent when it came to funding her shopping sprees. Unfortunately, the gods were capricious bastards, Ares with a reputation worse than most. His generosity might end at any moment, and she had no desire to be stuck in the Olympus Realm without access to contemporary clothing. Human fashion was her new addiction.

As she dropped her black, lace bra haphazardly on the floor, Holly decided to take a shower. A snarky smile curled her lip as she purposely ignored the heavy metal bindings, striding past them toward the bathroom. Two attendants snapped to attention and followed, hot on her heels.

Soap bubbles ran along her arms as Holly stood under the spray of water, fighting the too-familiar anxiety. In her mind, the bindings by her bed grew larger as the evening wore on, intensifying her sense of dread as the sun set each night. She flew into a spitting rage the first few weeks, but if she fought, they called more attendants, overpowering her every time.

The first two weeks of her imprisonment, Holly stayed awake and alert all night, inventing ways to kill anyone, namely Ares, who might enter the room and attempt to rape her. But, surprisingly, he never came. After the first month of the monotony of the exercise, she simply gave up the fight. Since she appeared to be in no immediate danger, making a game out of annoying the attendants who secured her each night became Holly’s sole source of entertainment.

Steam billowed as she stepped out of the shower. A clean towel hung from a hook a few feet away. She stretched out her arm, grasping for the towel, just out of reach. Holly huffed when neither of the homely attendants stepped forward the extra half inch to help. Their annoyed faces held a pinched expression.

My bondage is apparently behind schedule.

Holly stood naked and slowly towel-dried her hair, determined to appear unhurried. She had never been shy about her figure, priding herself on its strength and sinew, but her current situation as a prisoner made her inherently diffident. After months of feeling like a mouse eyed by a team of hawks, Holly feigned bravado, but the attendants’ stares burrowed under her skin in a way she didn’t think possible.

Stiffening her spine, she languorously perused herself in the mirror, finger combing her long, wavy, red hair. Leaning closer to the mirror, she inspected the dark circles beneath her bright green eyes. Sleep came harder and harder these days. She dried her arms and torso, pausing at every scar, remembering each childhood beating or combat training wound. Battle beauty marks, she called them, each one making her stronger than the last.

One of the females impatiently cleared her throat.

Holly sighed and wrapped the towel around her torso, tucking the end securely in place under her arm. The fabric barely settled against her thigh when one of the women grabbed her upper arm and led her to the bedroom. Every fiber in her being wanted to strike out, but Holly didn’t resist. She decided many moons ago to reserve her strength for more worthwhile battles, should a real fight become necessary later in the evening.

One attendant turned down the bedcovers. The other picked up a heavy metal bracelet secured to the wall by a five-foot long chain. They stood silently, faces blank, waiting for Holly to put on the blue nightgown. When she did, then slid into bed, the attendant immediately placed the cuff around her right wrist. The intricate locking mechanism engaged, sliding a complex, serpentine design into place, reminding Holly of a nest of snakes. The second attendant picked up a matching bracelet on the opposite side of the bed and placed it on her left wrist. They snapped on two anklets, anchored to the stone floor, with loud clicks, completing the evening ritual. Then, without a word, the attendants left the room, flipping off the light on the overhead crystal chandelier as they closed the door behind them. Efficient, quick, and emotionless.

Darkness blanketed the room. Holly stared through a huge window next to the bed at a starless night sky. A full, bright moon spilled silvery light across her skin. She maneuvered into a more comfortable position against the bedframe and tugged at the chains, cursing them, but thankful they were long enough to allow her to sit upright.

Damp, fire-engine red hair hung down her back, causing chill bumps to rise on her arms and legs. She thought about pulling up the blanket for warmth but couldn’t summon the energy. Depression settled around her like a fog. Had she finally resolved herself to being a captive, a servant to the Olympus God of War?

Gods, no. Anything but acceptance.

A short rap at the door made her jump. Ares entered without waiting for a response, and Holly felt no small amount of relief when her whole body involuntarily tensed. Adrenaline shot through her, mind and muscles automatically synchronizing, preparing for a fight.

No, I haven’t accepted anything yet. And damn him for not allowing me any privacy.

The shackle on her left wrist caused the skin beneath to itch. She reached to scratch, and the chain on her right wrist jangled noisily in the quiet of the room. His visit, so obviously timed to make her feel vulnerable, only served to piss her off.

Ares hovered near the door, not coming any closer. He appeared as he always did—dark, brooding, and dangerous. Errant strands of jet-black hair escaped from a messy ponytail. A plain, cream-colored tunic covered his immensely broad shoulders. A light dusting of curls peeked out from the V-neck of the tunic, reminding Holly how soft they’d once felt between her fingers. Tan leather pants, scuffed and worn, stretched across thighs as large as tree trunks. A scabbard hung low on his hips, an ever-present sword at his side. Even late at night, alone in his castle except for his servants and a chained-up Custodaris, Ares remained armed.

He didn’t speak. He just looked at her. Their gazes locked. To Holly’s surprise, she didn’t run through a mental catalogue of ways to maim or injure him. Her mind went blank, watching him watch her.

He blinked, breaking their stare. As his gaze roamed over her body, she instinctively sucked in her stomach and lowered her chin, allowing her hair to fall forward over one shoulder.

They had sex once before, on the day they met. She remembered the experience vividly, Ares fisting his huge hands into her hair, stroking it, burying his face in her long, red curls. Knowing he liked her hair, she’d kept it lush and shiny, thinking it might give her an advantage in case she ran into him in the hallway. But tonight, the thick mop hung tangled and damp past her shoulder.

Her attempts to entice him were wasted anyway, and she knew it. His attraction to her evaporated long ago. He completely ignored her, most days. As much as she wanted to be pleased about his ambivalence, her ego still wanted his desire. History taught her she could control men who craved her sexually. Manipulate them. At least, that was the reason she gave herself for the come-hither look she gave him.

His mouth opened a fraction, and his tongue curled over his bottom lip, appearing more an indication of thoughtful consideration than lascivious intent.

So many nights, she dreamed of him coming to her, wanting her—and every morning she woke up cursing the insanity of her subconscious mind. He should scare the pants off her, but most of the time she wanted to forget her pants altogether. The acknowledgement of her body’s response to his mere presence pissed Holly off beyond all rational thought.

Silence stretched between them. Ares stood still as a stone statue, the only sign of life a muscle ticking in his very masculine jaw. If his deep brown eyes weren’t so hard and cold, she could swear there might have been an inkling of lust lurking, but Ares was virtually unreadable.

Do you need anything? Ares’ gravelly voice broke the tense silence.

A key to my chains would be nice. Holly didn’t hide the sarcasm behind her retort. The shackles itch, and it’s difficult to sleep.

A ghost of a smile danced across his mouth, then disappeared. The sooner you submit to me and accept your restraints, the easier it will be for both of us.

Rage coiled low in her belly.

Never. She spat out the word like poison on her tongue, loving the defiance in her tone. Pride spread through her chest. She’d be a Titan until her last breath, and Titans never voluntarily submit. Ever.

Thank the gods. I’m still me, and I’ll fight this bastard until the day one of us dies.

A slow smile spread across Ares’ face, as though her response pleased him instead of making him angry.

Holly cursed under her breath as she felt her traitorous body respond, her nipples hardening under the thin, silk negligee.

His gaze dropped to her chest as he whispered words that sent chill bumps racing down her arms.

Never say never, Holly.

The hilt of his sword scraped against the doorway as he turned and walked out, leaving Holly angry and frustrated in ways she dared not contemplate.

Chapter Two

The hollow sound of footsteps echoed down the hallway as Ares stalked to his bedroom. The Titan female infuriated him. Zeus, his father, took obvious pleasure in trying to teach him a lesson by saddling him with Holly as a Custodaris, but damned if Ares knew what lesson he needed to learn. She confounded him at every turn, and she did nothing right. When he wanted her to be submissive, she defied him. When he wanted her to fight him, for no other reason than to help him keep his distance from her, she played coy and soft, drawing him in.

Proud and strong, she made no secret she hated the very air he breathed, but her body responded to him, whether she chose to deny it or not. He knew she wanted him. He sensed her desire as easily as he felt his own. Not that Holly would ever admit her feelings, and for some reason, that made her harder to resist. The vixen caught him in her snare the first moment they met. That alone was the reason she still drew breath, after the calamity her actions caused.

Why in nine hells did he stop at her door, anyway? Every night, he leaned against the stone wall in the corridor, waiting until the attendants left her room. Every night, he knew Hephaestus’ chains bound her to the bed. Every night, he wanted to go to her. Every night, he abstained, until tonight.

Three months of captivity should have mellowed her. He kept waiting for her to get a little Stockholm syndrome, so he could take advantage of it. He should have known better.

Ares entered his bedchamber and unbuckled his belt. He tossed the heavy leather casing, which held his weapon, on a chair. Pulling his tunic over his head, he balled the thing in his fists and threw it on the bed, a huge, four-poster monstrosity looming in the center of the room. Ares imagined, not for the first time, Holly tied up on his mattress. Not with shackles and chains, like in her bedroom, but with soft fabric tied to each bedpost. A smile curved his lips as his thoughts ran wild, picturing the blue negligee she wore pushed up around her neck—her body gloriously naked and laid bare for whatever he wanted to do with it.

When he turned toward the bathroom, with his fingers on the fastener of his leather pants, Aphrodite materialized before him. He sucked in his breath and cursed. If Holly was a weak spot, Aphrodite represented his personal brand of kryptonite.

Long ago, he believed mere memories of their love affair would sustain him for the rest of his immortal days. But after the first hundred years of living without her, his heart hardened. Resentment burned a stone in his stomach, tearing through his gut, born of longing and regret.

What do you want, ’Ro? Ares hastily dropped his hand from his leathers.

Nothing of consequence.

The warmth of her voice flowed over him like sun-soaked silk.

I missed you. I wanted to see you for a few minutes. Aphrodite ran a hand over the coverlet on the bed, and shot him a sultry gaze under lowered eyelids.

Ares felt the rush of her sensual energy reach out to him. He grew hard so fast he went lightheaded from the rush.

I missed you, too. Ares heard the plaintive tone in his voice and cleared his throat, trying to disguise his weakness. You’re looking well.

I heard you have a new Custodaris, she said.

Sons of Hades. I should have guessed.

And what exactly have you heard?

Nothing more than you acquired one a few months ago. She swept her hair over her shoulder with a toss of her head, the gesture both innocent and sultry. Is she pretty?

Then you know it’s a female Custodaris. What else do you know?

Are you worried about gossip, Ares?

He grunted. Aphrodite probably knew all about his disgrace, as well as Holly’s role in the scandal. Why else would she ask?

I rarely worry about gossip, but every time I’m dragged into it, a woman is usually at the root.

Aphrodite winced, and her heat withdrew abruptly, the temperature in the room dropping several degrees. Ares clamped his lips together, wishing he hadn’t gone there. He blamed himself as much as he blamed her. He had loved a married woman. It mattered little she hadn’t loved her husband, or they were lovers before she married his brother. First generation gods stayed out of each other’s marital beds, period. Especially those with the Goddess of Matrimony as their mother, riding herd over her sons.

Aphrodite removed her hand from the bed and faced him with steel in her voice, all traces of sensual energy sucked from the room. I wish to borrow the services of your new servant.

Her use of the word servant bothered him. Holly’s Titan heritage and Custodaris skills made her talents incredibly rare. Ares knew of no other like her. An urge to defend his Custodaris leaped to his lips, but he kept his mouth closed.

As you know, I’m not allowed a Custodaris of my own. It makes my situation, she paused as though choosing the right word, …difficult.

What services, specifically, do you wish of my Custodaris, ’Ro? Ares crossed his arms, predicting her answer and not liking it one bit.

I want her to fetch a mortal male from Earth Realm and bring him to me. One of the tedious Fey Queens temporarily suspended the Bridge through Faery I normally use. I need another way to access my lovers.

Ares squinted through the instant throbbing in his right temple; his vision blurring to shades of light red. How dare she ask his help in summoning another male so she could fuck him? Ares gritted his teeth, slowly grinding out his refusal.

Holly is not for loan, especially for that. Your request is beneath my Custodaris, and beneath me. You should be ashamed to ask in the first place.

Astonishment flitted across Aphrodite’s perfect face. You will not do this for me?

Ares shook his head. You may be the Goddess of Beauty and Sexuality, ’Ro, but if you’ve stooped to the level of needing a pimp—or someone to pass your mortal boyfriends notes—then perhaps you’re no longer a goddess at all.

He expected her to explode in anger. Instead, she sidled up to him, her sensual power reaching out to him stronger than before. He tensed at her approach, causing the muscles in his chest and arms to bulge.

"You look amazing, Ares. She crooned the compliment, sounding both genuine and blatantly calculating at the same time. I forgot how very large you are."

He watched her face, following her gaze as it stroked the expanse of his chest, moving down to rest on the front of his leather pants.

"Especially compared to mortals. So. Fucking. Big."

The curve of her lips beckoned to him, so close. Close enough he could smell her skin. Her scent weakened his knees as he remembered the sensation of rubbing against her naked body. He remembered how she tasted and felt his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed reflexively. She never failed to manipulate him, even though he knew exactly what she did. He always caved. Aphrodite always got what she wanted from him, and he hated her for it.

As he opened his mouth to agree to Aphrodite’s request, a shocking image of his Custodaris popped into his brain. Holly’s fiery hair flowed around her indignant face, her emerald eyes burning with desire—beautiful, strong, and proud. He suddenly felt a strange kinship with her. They were both prisoners. Holly was as chained to the bed down the hall as Ares was to his feelings for Aphrodite, and they both desperately sought freedom.

Movement caught his eye as Aphrodite ran a hand through her long, white-blonde hair, pushing the thick curtain away from her face. The action reminded him of what she used to do when she was on top of him, making love to him.

He scowled. She manipulated him through memories, he realized. Then he flashed to another time and place where red hair rained down his forearm as Holly rode him, the day they met, the one time they’d been together.

Red hair the color of fire. Red hair everywhere.

Aphrodite asked him again, her voice rolling like the purr of a cat. "Please."

He turned her down flat, surprised at the lack of emotion in his voice. No. Don’t ask me again.

Before he could give himself a self-congratulatory pat on the back for resisting Aphrodite’s feminine wiles for the first time in, well, ever, Aphrodite lifted her hand. Her clothes vanished. Every. Single. Thread.

She stood inches away from him, completely nude, with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. Heat blasted through the room, and a damp sheen of perspiration broke out all over his body, making him remember the salty-sweet tang of their combined sweat from centuries past.

Every nerve ending went on high alert. In that moment, he would have sold his soul to Hades to have her again. The burning in his gut returned at the all-encompassing desperation. An excruciating pain ripped through his chest, his heart contracting in agony as the useless organ shriveled in his chest.

Then, damn all the gods to Hades, a whimper escaped. He wanted to slit his own throat at the sound.

Aphrodite’s eyes softened as she reached up to put a hand on his cheek, and then diverted to stroke his hair.

No skin on skin. Never skin on skin.

It’s no matter, Ares. I’m sorry I asked. I just wanted an excuse to visit. I really do miss you.

His chest clenched at her sweet words, the emptiness where his heart should be aching like the Great Abyss. Then she delivered the crushing blow.

I have access to another Custodaris, anyway. I will likely have a new lover in my bed within the hour. Goodbye, my love.

Aphrodite vanished before his eyes, the air in the space around his bed perfumed with her familiar scent. Ares blinked at the empty room as his body adjusted to the abrupt withdrawal of Aphrodite’s power. His muscles slowly unclenched, one by one. All except for his cock, which was still hard enough to cut glass, and likely would be for hours, if past experience lent any indication.

Emotion surged in his chest, and a bellowing roar erupted from his throat. He reached out with one arm and ripped a bedpost the size of a tree trunk off its frame, then hurled it through the window.

Chapter Three

Aphrodite glanced at her mortal lover and tapped an elegant fingernail meditatively against her lips. After making love for the past few hours, Carlos snored softly beside her. His huge upper body reclined on dozens of damask silk pillows in the massive bed in her temple. Detachedly, she studied his long, lean lines from head to toe, all sinewy muscle and supple, tawny skin. Black hair streamed down the side of his face, framing perfect, masculine features. Indisputably, utterly gorgeous and, some would argue, as close to a physical carbon copy of the God of War as could be found. Sadly, Aphrodite found him a poor substitute. The mortal lover in her bed simply paled in comparison to Ares. All her lovers did.

Already beautiful when she found him, Carlos blossomed once they began having sex. Her powers broadened his shoulders, narrowed his waist, and plumped his thighs. As the Goddess of Beauty and Sexuality, her physical contact with any mortal made the human more desirable. With their recent schedule of consistent copulation, Carlos would never lack female companionship for the rest of his life.

As her gaze rested upon his manhood, his cock grew thicker and lengthened in response. Carlos grunted and licked his lips in his sleep. His testicles hung in heavy sacs between his thighs, potent and virile.

Aphrodite sighed. She would need to release him and strip his mind of the memories soon.

Still in a dead sleep, the mortal groaned and reached over to grasp her leg possessively. Roughened fingernails scraped the tender flesh of her inner thigh.

Suddenly claustrophobic at his nearness, she shifted away and stood up beside the bed. A sultry breeze filtered between the gauzy curtains. They swayed slightly, beckoning her to the terrace. She walked through them and stared up at a cloudless night.

A memory of another time and place flashed in her mind, sending a sharp lance of loneliness through her. Not just any place, but a clandestine hideaway on the shores of Delos. The haven she shared with Ares had been her refuge from a husband whose presence she could not bear, but the cottage and the home were long gone. She and Ares had been deeply and truly in love—before Hera’s curse.

Aphrodite leaned against the terrace railing, wondering for the millionth time if Ares and Hera ever spoke of the past, or if he just accepted the curse upon Aphrodite and moved past it. He would never challenge his mother over her actions. He hadn’t back then, so she had no reason to believe he ever would. After all, Ares wasn’t the one doomed to roam the world without a partner. He could take one at any time and live happily for hundreds or thousands of years with a devoted female.

As if I would ever allow that. Never.

She white-knuckled the railing, recalling his refusal of her simple request. He’d been terribly evasive of her questions about his new Custodaris. Rumors swirled all over Olympus about the trouble the Titan female caused, resulting in Zeus handing her over to Ares as her punishment. Surely, his new servant couldn’t be the reason he refused her. Far more likely, he kept the Titaness alive to torture her.

Ares didn’t handle humiliation well. In fact, he slaughtered entire armies of his enemies at the mere mention of a past embarrassment. His sensitivity to the judgmental comments of other Olympian gods was legendary, as were the lengths he would go to kill anyone who dared mention one of his many indiscretions.

Still, no rumors spoke of the horrors he might be inflicting upon the Titan female. Usually, Ares allowed horrifying tales of retribution to circulate amongst the Olympus gossips, if for no other reason than to encourage the detestable reputation he worked so hard to maintain. Since no rumors swirled about her torture, then perhaps he disposed of her quickly and quietly.

Aphrodite scowled into the night, weighing the most likely option. When it came to punishment, Ares didn’t do quick or quiet.

An unfamiliar emotion churned deep in her chest. Aphrodite recognized it as twinges of jealousy. The Goddess of Beauty and Sexuality should be envious of no one, especially not a Titan female in a position of servitude to the notoriously brutal and bloodthirsty God of War. Still, Aphrodite couldn’t shake the feeling the Titaness had something to do with Ares’ ability to deny her request.

Carlos touched her shoulder. Distracted by her thoughts, Aphrodite didn’t hear him get out of bed. A beefy arm encircled her waist. He pulled her into his embrace, her soft curves a perfect complement to the hard lines of his powerful frame. A thick rod of arousal pressed into her hip. She instinctively opened her legs.

Leaning seductively over the railing, she imagined the man sliding into her from behind was someone else. Someone dark and powerful. Someone who used to caress her body by trailing his long, black hair down her spine. Not a man, but a god. A god who would give her anything she requested, and desired the touch of no other.

Ares would always want her. Always. And if he stopped wanting her because he wanted someone else, she would simply murder the offending object of his desire and allow the world to return to its proper place.

Carlos rocked against her and moaned. Aphrodite barely heard him, mentally a million miles away. Ares needed a war. He had achieved far too much success in his campaign to promote fear amongst those who would oppose Zeus. If she created an enemy for Ares to fight, the Titan distraction under his roof would hold less allure, assuming she still drew breath at all.

Aphrodite decided to give Ares a gift—a rebellion to fight and a tribe of criminals to slaughter. He would be so pleased to have someone to kill. Satisfied with how generous she felt, arranging something to make him happy in spite of his denial of her request, she closed her eyes and allowed the orgasm to wash over her as her reward.

Chapter Four

Holly yawned and wandered aimlessly through the castle. Plagued by intensely vivid dreams since Ares’ visit a few nights ago, she awoke exhausted and completely out of sorts each morning. After waking up on sweat-soaked sheets to the raspy memory of Ares’ stubble on her cheek for the third time in a row, she roamed the corridors of the labyrinth of his castle, pathetically hoping to run into him.

Refusing to examine her feelings too closely, she focused on the art hung on the interior castle walls. As expected, the God of War favored oil paintings portraying the heat of battle, blood, and carnage. The images reminded her of the day they met.

After bribing, threatening, and screwing her way through various moderately powerful men, she scored an invitation to the Weapons Room within Ares’ temple on Mount Olympus. Terrifying scenes of fighting, slaughter, and high-octane rage, artistically created in brilliant mosaic tile, decorated the long corridor leading to the cavernous room filled with stockpiles of weapons.

The memory brought back an involuntary shiver.

Her heavy combat-style boots plodded on the stone floor as she strolled down hallways, staring in awe at enormous paintings taller than she. A few battles she recognized from the Great War between Titans and Olympians. Other paintings portrayed scenes darker and more sinister. Bloody fights between man and beast seemed to jump off the walls. Some of the monsters locked in frozen conflict she thought grotesque, but others were strangely beautiful. Surprisingly, the creatures appeared to be the victors in some paintings, with man and god defeated beneath claws, pointed teeth, and shimmery scales.

For notoriously prideful Ares to display wildly graphic images of the defeat of his own kind was…interesting. She assumed he would order such works of art burned, along with the painters who dared commit to canvas such blasphemous images.

Though fighting predictably dominated the subject matter, beautiful landscapes adorned the walls, too, as well as nudes. Lots and lots of nudes, with soft, luminous brushstrokes lovingly painted, all of the same woman. Aphrodite. Finding the Goddess of Beauty and Sexuality as the prominent female portrayed in his collection did not surprise Holly in the least.

Ares and Aphrodite’s doomed love affair served as a cautionary tale against crossing the Queen of Olympus. Hera showed no mercy, even to her own children. The story kept the married folk in line, which pleased Hera, and the story’s sadistic punch line was one of a very long list of reasons Holly did not intend to marry.

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