Goddess of Summer Love
I do not know how I became the goddess of love. Oh, I understand the “goddess” part. I am immortal, and I possess certain powers, and in ancient Greece, “deity” was the only language they had to describe us. We were lucky to be born in that world. A monotheistic culture has far different words for such a thing, as Denny—Dionysus—discovered when he over-imbibed in Inquisition-era Spain and started showing off his powers. Marius—Ares—had to ride to his big brother’s rescue, roping me into it because Athene decided a little pyre-burning might teach Denny to hold his liquor. Yes, Athene still goes by Athene, and dear Lord do not spell it Athena. She once snuck a chisel into the British Museum to fix a statue.
No, I understand why the appellation of goddess. It’s the “love” part I’ve never quite fathomed. Goddess of beauty, yes, and that is no show of ego. I know how I look, and if Fate had given me some say in the matter, I would have denied that particular gift. I suppose “love” arises from that. What else is a beautiful woman good for?
My powers have nothing to do with love. Or sex, though I am very fond of it, and rather good at it, as one might certainly hope to be after three thousand years of practice. No, I lack any powers of love or sex or fertility, and yet one can even find twenty-first century sects that worship me in hopes of receiving those blessings.
I have no dominion there, and so after centuries of confusion, I did the only thing I could. I slammed down my banner and claimed the territory for myself. Aphrodite aka Venus aka Vanessa. Patron deity of lovers. Matchmaker extraordinaire.
And I am about to do what I do best.
Marius arrives to the soft blip of the security panel as he lets himself in. He doesn’t call for me. Doesn’t ask where I am. He strides straight through to my dressing room as if by homing beacon. We have been friends since we were children, lovers since we were adults, and even if we are currently “on a break”—as we have been too many times to count—he is first in my life, and I am in his. As he says, “Venus and Mars, planets with the entire earth between them sometimes, but still always within each other’s sight.”
He doesn’t say hello. We are far past pleasantries. He walks in, and I don’t turn from the mirror, but I do watch him enter through it. I will never be past that.
Marius looks in his forties. We all do. Our immortality took hold as we passed our youth and settled into early middle age, which is a very comfortable place to inhabit. He is handsome, of course. Athletic, of course. Confident and self-possessed. He is Ares, after all. God of War. But every statue leaves out the best of him. The easy-going charm and the kindness. Most of all, the kindness.
He walks up behind me as our eyes meet through the mirror. Dark blond hair curls over his forehead. Beard stubble signifies he is taking the long weekend off work, as do the chinos, a golf-shirt and loafers.
“You’re look very corporate,” I say.
“Don’t worry. I have my Hawaiian shirt in the car.” He catches my look and grins, showing perfect teeth. “Hawaiian shirt. Deck shorts. Sandals. With socks of course. Memorial Day appropriate attire.”
“I love the corporate look,” I say.
“I thought you might. And I see we’re still trying to pick an outfit.”
His gaze moves to the clothing hanging from every surface of the room.
“You do realize it’s a small-town festival, right, Vess? Not a black-tie dinner.”
“I would prefer black-tie. Then I would know exactly what to wear. This requires subtlety. Kennedy invited us as her guests, to celebrate the opening of her new shop, and I need to blend. Blend.”
“Good luck with that.” I shoot him a glare.
He tilts his head. “Wait. Did you say Kennedy invited us? Pretty sure you invited us. In fact, I’m pretty sure the whole opening-gala weekend was your idea. You played fairy godmother, getting her new shop ready in time, everything moved from Boston to take advantage of the long-weekend crowds, and oh, why don’t we make a grand opening of it, invite Aiden for the weekend, yes, what a lovely idea that has absolutely nothing to do with matchmaking.” He looks at me. “Please, please tell me it has nothing to do with matchmaking.”
“It is the perfect weekend to open her shop. The start of the summer season in a tourist town. The timing was tight, so I helped make it happen.”
He motions sprinkling fairy dust.
“I am old,” I say. “Excruciatingly old, and entitled to my whims and notions. I had a notion to help Kennedy, in partial payment for all the help she gave us.”
“I noticed you dodged the matchmaking question.”
“Kennedy and Aiden make a perfect couple. They just need a nudge.”
He sighs and lowers himself into a chair. “They’ve only known each other for two weeks.”
“And at this rate, it’ll be two decades before either makes a move. I am accelerating the schedule. They’re mortal, after all. They don’t have the luxury of time. However, that is far from the only reason we’re going to Unstable. I do want to help with the grand opening. I also have other plans. Other work to do.”
His eyes narrow. “Other matchmaking?”
“Jonathan and Ani.”
“What?” I say. “You complain that I haven’t given Kennedy and Aiden time. Jonathan and Ani have been friends since childhood. They’ve had time. Now they need help.”
“Also Rian and Hope, I presume?” he says, naming Aiden’s brother and Kennedy’s younger sister. I snatch up a dress from a chair.
“Certainly not. They don’t suit, and I have every intention of making sure that particular match doesn’t happen. She’s a child. He’s the emotional equivalent of one.”
“She’s twenty. He’s a twenty-four-year-old in need of some maturity, but I see promise there.”
“Of course you do, because he’s your hundred-times-great-grandson. If you want promise, you have Aiden. Rian needs a swift kick in the rear.” I pull on the dress. “Thankfully, he is out of the country, so that is one fewer problem to worry about.”
I slap on my accessories, turn and strike a pose. I’m wearing an unflattering brown sundress and equally unflattering glasses with my hair pinned up.
“Sexy librarian,” Marius says. “I like it.”
I scowl and switch to a pencil skirt and linen blazer, leaving the glasses and hair.
“Hot for teacher?” he says.
A hard glare, and I try outfit number three, a linen pantsuit.
“Mmm, speaking of corporate.” He waggles his brows. “Can I be the misbehaving new hire, lady boss?”
I sigh and slump into the other chair.
He rises, riffles through one of my closets and pulls out a simple but elegant sundress. Then he removes my glasses, sets them aside and unpins my hair before handing me the dress.
“Be yourself, Vess. No one expects anything else.” He pauses. “If you do want to change up anything, may I make a suggestion?”
“Don’t play matchmaker this weekend.”
“I am the goddess of love,” I say. “This is what I do. I have a plan. They are all very keen on mysteries, so I have one for them.”
He winces. “Please don’t tell me you’ve invented a fake mystery for them to solve.”
“Of course not. They aren’t children. I’m bringing them an actual local mystery . . . with a few extra clues.”
“Clues you planted?”
“Red herrings. Just a sprinkle.”
“Here’s a thought. Give them the mystery, minus the fake clues, and skip the matchmaking. They’re all adults. If they’re meant to be together, they’ll figure it out for themselves.”
He catches my expression and throws up his hands. “I tried. No one can say I didn’t try.”
I kiss his cheek. “You did. It was a lovely effort, and I appreciate it so much that I will let you be my plus-one at the weddings.”
He sighs, deeper, and returns to his chair.
We’re driving to Unstable, Massachusetts, the paranormal capital of New England. Oh, yes, Salem gets most of the attention, but that’s an entirely different thing. Salem is renowned for killing witches. Unstable is renowned for welcoming them. Witches, mediums, spiritualists, and dozens of supernatural species that do not actually exist. What does exist has made a home there.
I suspect there’s at least one immortal in town. There’s also the Bennett family, with three orphaned sisters Ani, Kennedy and Hope. They’re curse-weavers, distant descendants of Mercy—Mercury—the “trickster god” of our family tree. The Bennetts aren’t immortal, but they did inherit that specific gift, just as dream-shapers inherit my power, being mostly descended from me. The Connolly brothers are descendants of Marius. Luck-workers, inheriting their talent from the god of battle luck.
The Bennetts settled in Unstable generations ago, and they openly ply their trade. That’s the advantage to both the modern era and to living in a town devoted to paranormal tourism. The average person doesn’t quite believe in things like hexes and curses, but they don’t quite not believe either, especially if they find themselves drawn to a weekend in Unstable. The Bennett family business is called “Unhex Me Here”—someone had a proper appreciation of Lady Macbeth. Their specialty is uncursing. Most of the objects people bring them suffer only from the stain of superstition. They love this watch they inherited from their grandfather, but they feel a little uncomfortable wearing it, especially since he’d been wearing it himself when he died. Could the Bennett sisters have a look, maybe lift any lingering unpleasantness? What Ani and Hope really sell is the soothing balm of reassurance.
Middle-sister Kennedy has found another way to use her talents. She tracks down cursed antiques and buys them cheap from owners who are in a hurry to get rid of them. Then she removes the curse, fixes them up and resells them. For two years, she had a shop in Boston, where she fled after her mother died of cancer. With both parents tragically taken so young, Kennedy had felt the need to escape the memories. Now she’s sorted that out and returned to open a shop in Unstable.
Marius exaggerated when he said I invited us to Unstable for the long weekend. As Kennedy’s shop fairy-godmother, I wanted to be there for the opening. So I booked Marius and I into a bed-and-breakfast. Kennedy insisted we stay at her family home.
I’d then asked whether she was sure there’d be enough room as Aiden would obviously be there too, given all the help he’d provided with the insurance claim. I knew she’d only invited him for the opening. With my prompt, she extended her invitation to the entire weekend, including lodgings at the Bennett home, and he’d cleared his schedule to accept.
So we are all staying at the Bennett residence for a delightful weekend, as the town throws open its doors and kicks off the summer season.
We arrive a little past four and park on a side street. The Bennett house is along the main street, which has been roped off for the upcoming festival. Stalls line the street, stretching almost to the Bennett house. In the distance, a ferris wheel is being set up.
Marius whistles. “They really go all out,” he says, scanning the street. “What do you say we sneak off tomorrow night, grab some elephant ears and give that ferris wheel a whirl?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I want. Fried carnival food prepared under god-knows what kind of conditions followed by sailing into the air on a metal wheel that probably hasn’t been inspected since Watergate.”
“Good thing we’re immortal, right?”
I sniff and roll my eyes. He knows I’ll go on the ferris wheel, and I’ll eat the fried-dough monstrosity, and I’ll enjoy it too, because he will enjoy it. Just as he will pick through the local book shop with me and stroll the gardens on the edge of town.
When a peal of laughter rolls over, I pause and frown. It seems to be coming from the Bennett’s yard.
“Sounds like a party,” he says, picking up his pace.
“Sounds like a lot of people,” I say, frowning.
“Uh, yes. Because it’s a party, Vess.”
“No, Kennedy said get-together. A backyard get-together with a few people.”
He grins. “I have a feeling that Kennedy shares my definition of ‘a few people.’ Less than fifty for an intimate get-together.”
He’s right. It’s definitely a party, with people streaming into the backyard and spilling out onto the driveway and front lawn. People their age—all in their twenties.
“We’re going to be the old fogies,” I say.
“Well, then you didn’t need to worry about what you wore, right?” He glances over, brows creasing. “This is okay, isn’t it? You like parties. You like young people.”
“But . . .?”
I shake it off. “Nothing. This is fine.” I walk over and take his arm, and we head into the back yard.
Copyright © 2021 by Kelley Armstrong All rights reserved.