Apollo Is Mine (Harem Of The Gods Book 1)
I spun and kicked back, aiming for the solar plexus. Heracles stepped out of the way, and with lightning speed, he was behind me, his arm around my neck. He squeezed until I couldn’t breathe, my lungs stinging. Panic swirled in my gut.
I grabbed his arm with both hands and pulled down, curling my body into a ball. It threw him off-balance, enough for me to get out of his death grip and gasp for air. He redeemed himself in no time—he was a demigod, after all, and he didn’t fall for the primitive moves of a mere human. I felt his power push down on me like a giant hand—not his physical strength, but the magic that came with his god side. It made it harder to focus as his magic gave off electrical sparks against my very essence.
But I wasn’t fully human either. Once I harnessed the strength of the gods in me, I could hold my own in a fight. Most of the time. I reached deep and tugged at that line inside me that plugged me into Zeus directly. Yes, the king of the gods. The magic simmered beneath my skin like fire, and I pushed the invisible power at Heracles, slamming into him.
Eyes wide open, he staggered on the spot. Our energies crashed into each other, sending out a wave that knocked over the chairs in the corner of the empty Chicago community hall we fought in and sent them sprawling.
I used Heracles’s arm, which I still held on to, and swung around, heaving myself up to land on his back, wrapping my legs around his torso as best I could. One arm was around his mouth and nose, the other around his throat. I had him.
Heracles didn’t agree. Grunting, he fell backward, using his weight to pin me, and it forced all the air out of my lungs. I didn’t let go of my grip, but Heracles had the upper hand now. Damn him. He rolled over, and somehow, his hands were on my shoulders, his knees on my legs, and I could do nothing but stare at his smirk.
“You’re dead,” he said in a low voice.
I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut. “I have more lives.”
“Not infinite. You only have three. Don’t waste them,” he snarled.
Why had Zeus given my family a limit on how many lives we had while we fought gods and creatures that were close to impossible to defeat? My ancestors had been fighting evil on Earth for so long, no one remembered exactly how long ago Zeus had blessed us. While we were strong and had supernatural abilities, we could still die from injuries like normal humans, and then we awoke in the same body, age, and time we died… basically we’d survived death. But if we were lucky enough to die of natural old age, the catch was, we were dead forever. No being reborn with another life. Zeus had a funny sense of humor, apparently.
“That’s not fair.” I wriggled for release.
“It’s never fair in the field. Do you think it was fair when I faced my twelve labors? No, but I overcame my fear and succeeded.” He raised his chin in pride like he always did when he spoke of his achievements. Those sharp cheekbones gave him a chiseled look, and there was no denying he was handsome. But the demigod sure loved to brag.
“Elyse, you’re smaller than I am in size,” he continued. “You’re smaller than any of the creatures or gods you’re battling. So you have to fight smart,” he insisted.
“Let me up,” I rumbled.
Heracles released me, and I rolled over, panting. I hated whenever I lost to him during our training sessions. Which was often, considering he was powerful enough to take down gods. I hated the way he tried to hold back the grin each time. I hated that I still hadn’t mastered my strength.
“I can’t do this, Herc,” I responded. “You’re only a demigod, and I can’t even beat you. What happens when my opponents are all magic without an ounce of humanity?”
Heracles frowned. “Thanks for that,” he said sarcastically, shadows crowding under his eyes. “But I can take on any god, so if you beat me, you’ll be ready to go.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. But our powers are more evenly matched. The other gods are bound to be stronger, right?” I had battled monsters before, but never a hostile god who intended to harm humans.
Heracles sighed loudly, running a hand through his sandy hair. “You can do this. My dad didn’t choose your family for this task because he thought any of you were weak.”
I shook my head. “Strength in numbers, remember? And where are those numbers? I’m the only one left.” My voice climbed as my stomach hardened at the injustice of my family line appointed to protect humans from godly monsters, yet we weren’t given the same abilities to battle them adequately. So everyone I loved had been killed in battle. I glanced down, blinking to push back the tears, reminding myself to slow my breaths. This wasn’t Heracles’s fault. He was the only one helping me.
My phone buzzed from inside my bag against the wall. I ignored it as Heracles kneeled in front of me where I sat on the foam mat. His eyes were cerulean blue, set in that Greek face of his. His nose was long and straight, his brows low, and he had the classic Greek olive skin that made everyone do a double-take. The humans knew Heracles was something else, but they could never put their fingers on it. It wasn’t that he was built like an Adonis himself or he had eyes that made you shiver to your core. The gods all had something about them that made the humans fear them yet adore them at the same time.
Wasn’t like I was in that category at all. Not even the slightest. I certainly didn’t adore the gods. More like I had a love-hate thing going on with them. And the feeling was mutual at best. Zeus had given my family bloodline the power that ran through our veins as a birthright for generations. I was born of a lineage that had been chosen to fight the “Good Fight” here on Earth while these gods were busy with more important things on Mount Olympus. I snorted a laugh. Yeah right. But I was one of them, in a way.
“You’ve come a long way,” Heracles stated, his voice sharp and authoritative. “Your father would be proud.”
At the mention of my dad, a pang of sorrow shot into my chest. His death had been the most recent, and the open wound still smarted, burrowing deep. That hollowness reminded me how alone I was in the world. But I pushed the agony away. I couldn’t let the tragedy that had haunted my family for centuries distract me while we trained. I didn’t want Heracles to know it was a weakness. My father’s death had left me with no one, and I was terrified of dying for real.
Didn’t matter that I could come back three times before it was my final death. Yep, logic made no sense when it came to fear. It just bubbled in my chest like a bomb about to detonate each time I imagined myself dying. Maybe I’d seen too many people I loved lose their lives too soon…I don’t know. But I wasn’t ready to leave this world.
“I realize I’m better than I was, but do you think it’s enough?” I stared into the bluest eyes for any sign of what he really thought.
Heracles folded his massive limbs until he was cross-legged like me. Somehow, it looked wrong. That formidable body in shorts and T-shirt was made for battle, not hanging out on the floor.
“It’s only enough if you believe it is.”
Right. It was all in my head. He reminded me of that all the time. And I felt good about myself when I fought. Most of the time, I could ignore the nagging fear that I wasn’t good enough and drag out the ability that made me stronger, faster, more powerful than other humans.
“Let’s stretch,” he suggested.
I rolled my eyes, huffing. “I’m tired.”
“You’ll be sore tomorrow if you don’t stretch. This is training one-oh-one. Don’t be a baby.” He brushed his light brown hair backward over his temples, looking like he’d just stepped out of a hairdresser, while I sweated.
He burst out in laughter, the sound savage and echoing around us. “Always the dramatic one.”
I fake-punched him in the arm. “You can’t talk.”
When he cocked a brow, I climbed to my feet. “Let’s get this over with.”
When our training session ended, Heracles picked up his duffle bag and turned toward me with a smile. “Good session. See you first thing in the morning?”
After I nodded, he left the training center to head home. Heracles lived on Earth, even though he had earned his way back into Mount Olympus centuries ago. He preferred staying with the humans, seeing that his adoptive parents and his true love, Megara, had been human. It had all been so long ago, it was purely a myth to everyone now. But to Heracles, Earth felt like home, he’d once told me. To the point where he taught self-defense classes at the local gymnasium, became an adventure junkie, and even had a profile on Tinder. Not that he needed to, but he insisted on keeping his options open until he found someone he clicked with. Mind you, he’d been on over a hundred dates with women who fawned over him, yet he still turned them down. Personally, I didn’t believe he was over Megara, and he searched for an elusive replacement who didn’t exist.
We’d been training every day of the week and on the weekend for the past five months. Since losing my dad, I took this a lot more seriously and wished I had done so when he’d been alive.
For now, every day was the same. No breaks. I only kept track of the days because of my friend. And he helped me not just because of the promise to his dad but to ensure we had a fighting chance to protect innocents.
Today was Thursday.
His routine was the same as mine. Or maybe mine was the same as his. He was always around to help me.
I climbed into my SUV and threw my gym bag onto the back seat. It landed next to the camera bag I always carried with me. I stared at the concrete community hall Heracles hired for a couple of hours every day. There were bars on the windows and weeds growing across the front yard, but this place offered the people a place of hope. Locals could hire it for boxing classes for kids, gymnastics, and yoga.
My legs were numb, and my heart rate was still elevated despite the cool-down session we’d had. My chest hurt, but that wasn’t from fighting.
Heracles had brought up my dad because he’d wanted me to know that Ernest Lowe would have been proud of his only surviving child. But I wished he hadn’t brought it up.
Dad had died a hundred and eighty-three days ago. His death was still fresh in my mind. My brothers had already been gone by then. My dad had fought the Aeternae near an old abandoned hospital alone, and they had gotten the better of him, taking his last life.
I hated Zeus for that. When Zeus had given us our power, given the Lowe family and all their descendants the ability to protect the Earth from Death, some gods had countered our attacks by sending us mythical creatures to battle. If we didn’t, they would kill the humans, and the more souls Hades could gather, the more Death won out.
My father had told me about Death when I’d been a little girl. I used to sit around the table with my brothers, and my father would tell us about a being that was unlike anything else. He lived with Hades, almost as a second personality in his very skin, and to those who knew him, Death was merely known as X. He had a name, but to mention it was to summon him, and no one wanted to die before their time.
X was the one who’d sent the Aeternae, the Griffins, the Centaurs, and the Chimera for us to fight when he figured we were bored. Or when he was.
The Aeternae were rhino-like creatures with sawtooth bones on their heads with which they maimed and killed.
My father had been powerful. He had been one of the strongest Lowes in existence, but it had been a case of numbers. There’d been too many Aeternae, and my mother and brothers had already long been dead. Anyone who married into the Lowe family, didn’t get the three-life gift. It was a blessing passed down through blood.
I had been away for photography work in Fresno, real work, not just a cover. I still blamed myself for not being there to help him fight, no matter how much Heracles told me it wasn’t my fault.
X hadn’t been the one to take my father’s soul when he’d died. None of us would belong to Hades once our time was up. When we died, we were taken to live with the other heroes of old in peace. It was the only thing that made my father’s death a little more bearable, but the whole absolute of leaving behind Earth and everyone I knew terrified me.
Anyway, X hadn’t been able to get his stinking fingers on my father’s soul, and he didn’t swim eternally in the River of Souls that Hades watched over in the Underworld. My family—all of them—were at peace.
So now I trained alone here on Earth, my only confidant and companion the demigod Zeus had appointed to train the Lowes, his task on Earth that would justify him not returning to Mount Olympus. Heracles had become a shoulder to cry on, a grief counselor after my father’s death, and a friend. And I trained because it was in my blood and so my dad’s death hadn’t been in vain. I’d carry on what he’d died for.
My phone beeped again. I grabbed it from my gym bag and found a message from a client buying several of my photographs I’d taken of an old, torn-down building. Fantastic, it meant money to pay my rent. I backed the car out of the parking lot and drove to my apartment on a busy street with cars parked in every spot along the curb. Luckily, I had reserved parking at the back of the building. There were no trees or shrubs on the sidewalk here. Only cement and concrete.
The sky was gray and lightning played across the heavens, but it wasn’t going to rain, according to my weather app. There’d been a time when I remembered the world to be a sunnier place, but Chicago was mostly cloudy now. The sun barely made an appearance. They blamed it on global warming. I wasn’t so sure it was that simple.
At home, I undid the long braid I always wore my hair in, stripped off my training clothes—sneakers, yoga pants, and fitness tank top—and climbed into the shower. The water ran through my hair and over my body, easing my sore muscles. Every week, I was getting stronger, my body fitter and more toned than it had ever been. When I looked in the mirror, I stared at a warrior. My dark hair offset my pale skin that was typical of a Lowe, and my father’s honey-colored eyes were haunted and filled with rage. He was the only reason I still did all of this. Sometimes, I believed I was a fool for still fighting.
There were Lowes spread all over the Earth, but if they hadn’t been killed, they’d abandoned the cause or hadn’t been taught about it at all because their forefathers had refused to support the fight. Their powers had dwindled from disuse, and I was alone still pushing on. I would avenge my family if nothing else.
If I gave up, their deaths would be for nothing.
When I climbed out of the shower, I turned on the radio in my room. All the stations were filled with talking. There was no music, only a constant chatter. Struggling to follow the conversation, I turned it back off. The silence was better.
After drying my hair, leaving it loose over my shoulders, I made a quinoa salad with raw salmon on the side. I trained hard, and I ate right. I never drank. Power like mine and losing control when I was drunk was a terrible combination. My brother Seth had proved that before he’d died.
I sat down on the couch with my meal and switched on the television.
Someone knocked on my door, and I groaned. I didn’t feel like getting up; plus, I was starving.
“Elyse,” Heracles called. I recognized his voice through the door. I frowned. Heracles never came to my apartment.
I pushed myself up from the couch and hurried to the front door. When I opened it, Heracles stood there larger than life, his brow furrowed with concern. He wore the leather armor he was depicted wearing in all the images in books and on the internet, complete with the rubber wristbands, the leather strip skirt, and the sandals. He held the golden shield as if it were made of paper. A black strip was tied around his forehead, and his light chestnut hair was pulled back in a ponytail of sorts. He looked divine, to say the least. I lost my breath and was pretty sure my neighbors might die of shock at seeing him dressed up this way.
“Did you go see your dad? Or are you heading to a costume party?” I teased, hoping it was the latter since that meant this wasn’t a serious talk. Or maybe for a change, he was inviting me out to have fun?
He stepped into the apartment, all shoulders and brooding. Worry knotted in my gut. I’d never seen him dressed like this. Supernatural energy radiated off him like steam, and I had to take a few deep breaths to steady myself.
He arched an eyebrow as if my comment didn’t warrant a response. “Yeah, I went to see Dad, and I’m here to warn you. Something big is coming.” His velvety voice was deeper than usual. The more time he spent on Earth between visits to his dad, the more the god-quality wore off and he seemed more like a human. A perfectly sculpted, crazy attractive human, but still. When he came back from Mount Olympus, he was riddled with power that skipped down his arms.
“Like what?” I asked, not sure I was ready to press the panic button yet. He had a habit of over-worrying, like last month when he’d insisted I shouldn’t visit the new café in town that had a peacock for its brand. I’d seen no issue with it, while he’d insisted the location was affiliated with Hera. Oh yeah, someone still held a grudge against the Queen of the Olympian gods, who believed peacocks were sacred. Then again, Hera had tricked Heracles into going mad and he killed his loved ones. Anyway, I’d visited the café and had the best coffee ever. Plus, I’d survived.
Heracles shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as if he struggled to stand in the afterglow of the gods, just like me. It buzzed in my veins, as if I’d eaten two big chocolate blocks in a row. And now, I hummed on a high.
“I don’t know.” Worry marred his brow. “My father warned me. Hades is causing trouble in the Underworld. Whatever is going to happen, it will probably come up from the Underworld. You have to be ready.” He spoke fast, the bridge of his nose pinching.
Suddenly, fear clutched at my throat, and my chest was tight. “What if I’m not ready? This is freaking Hades we’re talking about! I can’t even defeat you!”
He stiffened, squaring his shoulders. “You have to be ready, Elyse. You’re the only one left, and if something is coming and you don’t do anything, a lot of people are going to die.” He gripped his hips, staring down at me as if I were a child in the same way my dad used to do when I’d refused to train.
I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe. I could do this. Wasn’t this what I’d been training for? Besides, I couldn’t stand Hades, so whatever he sent our way deserved an ass-kicking.
But I hoped to God that Hades wasn’t personally going to visit Earth. And this was why I so wished Heracles had said we were going to a costume party instead. Because if I was taking on the god of the Underworld on my own, I might as well sign my own death warrant right now.