See disclaimers in Part One
Send feedback to JinXavier@aol.com
The Brass Jar: Part Two
Jess stretched luxuriously in her bed. She was sore all over her entire body, but it was a pleasant ache. Her lips curved into a satisfied smile as she reached out, searching for her new lover.
Her hand fell across empty space, and she sighed heavily. She should never have shown Ares how to work the television set. He rarely slept, and more often than not, when she discovered him missing, she found him on the couch with his eyes glued to the TV screen.
She rolled over, looked at the clock and groaned. How did it get to be 10:00 in the morning already? And Monday yet, her least favorite day of the week. She really needed to get up and at least make an appearance at the museum. She knew Harry would assume she was off on another artifact-finding mission, but there were a few things she needed to take care of. She wanted to get her workroom straightened up; if she put the lid back on that jar, no one would know it had been tampered with.
She lay in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering how in the world she was going to explain Ares to people, when a horrible racket began in the living room, followed by a crash, then dead silence. In a panic, she slid out of bed and grabbed a robe, wrapping it around her nude form as she ran from her bedroom.
The God of War stood in the middle of her living room, his body sheathed in black leather, the sword signifying his godhood in hand as he glared down at the ruins of her stereo system.
"What the hell happened?" she swore.
He looked up at her, fierce pride on his face. "I touched it, and it began to make a horrible noise, so I killed it."
Jess ran her fingers through her sleep-tousled hair in agitation. "Jesus, Ares, that was just my CD player." She bent down and rummaged through the mess. She located half a silver disk and held it up for inspection. "THIS was my favorite Aerosmith CD. It was just music."
"Music?" he asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, rock and roll. I can't believe you killed my stereo. What were you doing messing with it?"
He shrugged, finally sheathing his sword. "I was exploring," he said stiffly. "I would know more of your world."
Jess couldn't help but grin. "Bored with me already?" she asked.
Ares' gaze fell on her, and a slow, seductive smile crossed his face as he stalked over to her and pulled her up into his arms. "No," he whispered. "Never that." His mouth came down and coherent thought left her as his lips explored hers. She pulled away at last, breathless. Much more of that, and they'd end up back in the bedroom again.
"Look," she said. "I really need to run to the museum today. Why don't we do that? Then I can take you on a tour of Dallas. We can drive by Otus' mansion."
Ares' beautiful face turned grim. "I would like that," he said, his voice full of menace.
"Okay," Jess agreed. She eyed the god critically. "We're really going to have to get you something else to wear, though."
Ares looked down at his clothes, confused. "What's wrong with what I have on?"
Jess smiled crookedly. "Darlin', if I took you out in that, I would have to beat the women off with a stick."
Ares' brow furrowed. "You beat women?" he asked, perplexed.
Jess burst out laughing. "No, it's just a saying. Let's just say you'd make a little TOO good of an impression on people for my peace of mind. Well, we'll worry about that later. I'm going to go take a shower now."
The God of War's face lit up. "A shower? I like your shower. I'll come with you."
Jess couldn't help but grin. "You don't NEED a shower," she pointed out. "And every time I get in there and you follow, we end up . . . " She trailed off.
Ares gazed at her stoically. "I don't see a problem."
Jess shook her head in amazement. "Don't you EVER get tired?"
A slow, feral grin was her only answer.
"Well, if you want to go exploring today, you'll just have to sit down and watch TV while I shower."
Ares' eyes blazed. "Millennium?"
Jess groaned. "No, Ares. That doesn't come on again until Friday. I really need to ask Lisa if she has those on video so you can see them all."
"What is video?"
"I'll show you when we get back, okay?"
Ares nodded and plopped down on the couch. He pointed his finger at the television, and it powered up. He had long since abandoned the remote, preferring to use his powers to change the channels. Jess shook her head in amusement. All he needed was a beer and some chips, and he'd look like any other red-blooded American male. Well, almost.
Laughing quietly to herself, she left the god happily channel surfing to go take her shower.
Dressed and ready to go at last, Jess grabbed her purse and headed for the living room. She could hear the sound of music coming faintly through the door. Great. AFTER he destroys her CD player he discovers MTV? She opened the door to the familiar strains of "Bad to the Bone," and as her gaze fell on Ares, her jaw dropped.
The God of War was dressed in a form-fitting black T-shirt which showed off every muscle to perfection and blue jeans tight enough to cut off his circulation. He even had on a pair of black cowboy boots with red stitching. His lips curved into a smile at her reaction.
"Will I do?" he asked, amused.
"Good Lord," she breathed.
He looked puzzled. "Does that mean yes?"
"Oh, yeah," she said at last. "You'll definitely do." She cocked her head, suddenly remembering something. "Where's your sword?"
The God of War grinned. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Shall we go see Dallas?"
Once underway, Jess realized that it was almost lunchtime. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd eaten. "I've got to get something to eat," she told her new companion. "I'll just drive through McDonald's."
"What is McDonald's?" Ares asked. Today the god seemed more interested in the gadgets inside the car. He was driving her nuts changing the stations on the radio and playing with the controls to the air conditioner. He seemed especially enamored of the cigarette lighter.
"It's a fast food place," she explained, then glanced up in the rear-view mirror and swore softly, "Get off my ass, you son-of-a-bitch."
One perfect eyebrow arched, and Ares turned to look behind them at the little green Toyota that was right on Jess' bumper. His forehead furrowed in concentration, and Jess watched in amazement as the car behind her slowed down immediately.
"Ares!" she yelled. "Don't mess with people's cars. You'll cause a wreck. What did you do to that guy?"
He leaned back in his seat, a satisfied smile on his face. "The foot device that makes his car go forward no longer works."
Try as she might, Jess couldn't help but laugh. "Well, at least you didn't blast him."
Ares shrugged. "Too messy."
Jess exited the freeway and headed for the McDonald's closest to the museum. She pulled into the parking lot and entered the drive-through lane. She pushed the button to lower the window and waited by the speaker.
"Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?"
Suddenly, she heard a buzzing behind her. What the . . .? She glanced over to see that Ares had discovered the window controls inset into the door handle. He was raising and lowering his window, a fascinated expression on his face that made him look all the world like a little boy. She shook her head in amusement.
"Hello?" a disembodied voice said.
Jess jumped, startled. She'd forgotten where she was for a moment. "Sorry. Give me two Big Mac extra value meals with cokes," she said, moving back in her seat as Ares leaned over her, craning his neck to see who she was talking to. She smothered a laugh when she heard him mutter 'phone' under his breath.
"Would you like to super-size that, ma'am?"
Jess looked the God of War over from head to toe. With a grin, she turned back to the speaker. "Super size one of them, please."
The clerk gave her a price, and Jess drove around, digging in her purse for some money. She pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to the clerk. Ares tugged her wallet from her fingers, then examined her driver's license. He glanced up at her, then back down at the picture.
"Yeah, I know it's awful. It's the law or something. No one can take a good driver's license picture."
The clerk handed her the change, but Ares still had her wallet, so she tossed it into the caddy between the seats. The god glanced down at the bills and coins, then seemed to disregard them.
"What are these?" he asked, pulling out a credit card and examining the plastic, then bending the card back and forth.
"Don't do that," she admonished. "You'll break it. I NEED that. It's my Visa card."
He pulled out another one and stuck it in front of her face. "What's this?"
"That's my Mastercard."
He grinned. "I like that better."
"Yeah, I bet you do," she muttered. "You can use those to pay for things," she explained.
"This?" he asked, running his finger over the raised numbers on the surface. He shook his head in amazement and returned the card to its place.
The clerk finally came to the window with their food. Jess took the bags and handed them to Ares, then put the cokes in the cup holders and drove away.
The God of War immediately dropped her wallet and began rooting around in the bags. He pulled out a fry, examined it closely, then sniffed it.
"It's okay," Jess said. "It's a french fry. You can eat it."
He took a bite, and a slow smile crossed his face. "That's good," he said, taking another bite, then quickly finishing off the fry.
Jess laughed. "Wait'll you try the hamburger."
"Pork?" he asked, pulling out a Big Mac and unwrapping it, rubbing his fingers across the slick surface of the wrapper with interest.
"Oh, no. It's beef. You know, like a cow? It's good."
Ares took a bite of the hamburger and began to chew slowly. His eyes lit up, and he began to grin from ear to ear. "This is wonderful," he said, taking another bite and another, wolfing the hamburger down, then looking back in the bag for another.
Jess groaned to herself. There went her lunch. She definitely should have bought more. Oh, well. She supposed she could do without. She could always stand to lose a pound or two.
They made it to the museum just as Ares finished off the last of the fries. Jess parked, and they went to her workroom first, straightening up the mess. She snagged her glasses before she left. Somehow in the excitement, she had left them behind. Thank goodness she only needed them to read, something she hadn't been doing much of lately. Then she led Ares upstairs to see the exhibitions. He was fascinated by everything, but, as she had expected, he made a beeline for the Greek exhibit. She left him there to go hunt down her boss.
Unfortunately, when she located Harry, he was with someone, and just probably the last person in the world she wanted to see right now. OTUS! She had to fight to keep her panic down. Otus NEVER came to the museum. He was on the board, but he never even came to the meetings. He always sent his little bimbo Mahrina to vote in proxy for him. That was one of the reasons Jess found it so easy to take things from him. He never looked over the exhibits, so there was no chance of him discovering any of his 'stolen' property.
She walked over to the pair slowly, trying to control her breathing. She didn't know what to do. Where the hell was Ares when she needed him?
"Harry," she said with what she hoped was a warm smile. "And Mr. Otus. How are you, sir?"
"Very well, Dr. Albritton," Otus replied.
Jess examined him closely, trying to appear nonchalant. Now that she knew the truth about him, his oddness made more sense. He was probably the tallest man she'd ever met in her entire life. He had to be at least seven feet tall. Now that she thought about it, weren't Otus and Ephialtes of the Greek myths supposed to be giants? He certainly towered over everyone here.
He really wasn't bad looking, in a strange sort of way. His hair was long and blond, held back in a fashionable queue, and his face was clean-shaven and very long and thin. He wasn't as muscular as Ares, but he was much taller. He didn't look as strong as her lover, but Jess knew that was probably just an illusion. His odd sea-green eyes turned her way, and she found herself wondering nervously if he could read her mind.
She snapped back to attention as he said, "I was just telling Harry about a tragedy of mine."
"Oh?" she asked, casting a curious glance at Harry. Her boss looked rather worried for some strange reason. Harry had no clue that Otus was one of her favorite targets; what in the world was bothering him?
"Yes," Otus continued. "There was a freak accident at one of the warehouses I use. A water main broke and flooded it. My foreman was drowned."
"That's terrible," Harry said gruffly. "That poor man."
"Yes," Otus said absently. "An entire shipment was ruined as well." He seemed much more concerned about the loss of the contents of the warehouse than the death of the foreman.
Jess spoke without thinking. "What kind of shipment?"
Otus turned his odd eyes her way. "Squid," he said shortly.
"Oh." Jess bit back a highly inappropriate smile. What a fitting occupation for the son of Poseidon. Otus was a supplier of seafood delicacies to all of Dallas.
"That's just terrible," Harry said. "Do they have any idea what happened?"
Otus smiled grimly. "Not a clue. The poor man died with his cigar clamped in his teeth."
Jess continued to smile, even though her stomach clenched painfully. Cigar? The foreman of the warehouse she had robbed last week had been chewing on a cigar. Suddenly, she felt like she was going to be sick.
Otus was staring at her. "Are you quite all right, Dr. Albritton?"
"Yes," she said faintly. "I'm fine."
Just then, one of the museum guards caught Harry's attention, and he excused himself for a moment. Otus watched him walk away, then turned back to her and said in a deceptively soft voice, "And now, Dr. Albritton, we can cease the pleasantries and get down to business. I want that brass jar."
Jess gaped at the god. He knew?
"Oh, yes," he said, answering the question she hadn't asked aloud. "I'm well aware of your little game. It's irritating, but I've let it slide because you are quite good at it, and you amuse me. But this time you've gone too far. That jar is important to me. I want it back." He stepped closer to her, looming over her, his expression thunderous.
Suddenly, behind her, she heard the unmistakable sound of boot heels clicking across tile. Otus looked up over her head. His odd eyes widened in shock, and his thin face blanched.
Jess turned her head to see Ares striding across the museum floor straight toward them, and she let out her breath in relief. She could see the fire in his eyes, the murder on his face. He came to stand beside her and placed a protective arm around her, his dark eyes glaring at Otus.
"Well," the giant said faintly. "I see you've already discovered the 'treasure' inside the jar."
"Hello, Otus," Ares said pleasantly, although his eyes were bright with hate. "It's been a long time."
"Not long enough," Otus said scathingly, but Jess could see the fear in his eyes.
The two gods glared at each other, then Ares began to draw his arm back, preparing to attack. Startled, Jess grabbed his arm. "No," she hissed. "Not here."
"Why not?" Ares snarled, his attention focused on his opponent.
Otus seemed to regain his composure. "Listen to the doctor," he said. "We wouldn't want to destroy all these fine artifacts, now would we. Besides," he added, "this is a different world, Ares. Things aren't done that way. We're much more . . . civilized."
"I'll show you just how civilized I can be when I remove your head from your shoulders," Ares growled.
Otus threw back his head and laughed. "Seriously, Ares. You can't kill me. I'm a god. Remember? And I'm sorry to inform you that your father never revoked the 'no god can kill another god' rule." The giant looked back and forth between his two adversaries. "I'll tell you what," he said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "Why don't the two of you come to my home. Say, tomorrow? For lunch? We can chat in private there, and perhaps we can come to an arrangement that will be mutually beneficial. What do you say, old friend?"
Ares continued to glare at his nemesis, but when Jess tightened her grip on his arm, he glanced down at her, and her distress finally seemed to penetrate his anger. "Very well," he said shortly. "Tomorrow."
Otus nodded. "Come over about 11:30. Dr. Albritton knows the way." He turned and stalked for the exit, although to Jess it looked like he was doing everything he could to keep from running away from his enemy.
Harry wandered back over just as Otus took his leave. The museum curator watched the tall man leave with an uncharacteristic expression of nervousness on his pleasant face. Jess couldn't figure out what was wrong with her boss. He was never this jumpy.
"Did I hear you say you're going to have lunch with Mr. Otus tomorrow?" he asked.
Jess nodded, then noticed the curator's expectant expression as he gazed at her companion.
"Oh, Harry, I forgot. This is . . . uh . . . my friend . . . uh . . . Mr. . . . uh . . ." Jess' mind went completely blank. She had no idea how to introduce him, but Ares saved the day.
"Black," he said, sticking out his hand to shake Harry's. "Frank Black."
Jess gaped at the god. Frank Black??? Good Lord, 'Millennium' had certainly made an impression.
"Nice to meet you," Harry said absently, glancing back over his shoulder once more.
"Harry, what is WRONG with you?" Jess asked.
Harry sighed heavily. "I don't think you should go."
"Where? To Otus'?"
Harry nodded. "Jess, the police have been here asking questions."
Jess' stomach clenched again. Had she been found out? Surely Otus wouldn't have reported her. He couldn't have. He had stolen that shipment himself. "About what?" she asked faintly.
"That man who died in that warehouse? They don't think it was an accident."
"Why?" she asked.
"They did an autopsy, and even though it's true that a water main burst and flooded the warehouse, the foreman's lungs were full of SALT water."
Jess stared at her boss in dismay. So Otus had killed the man, and she knew it was because he'd let that shipment slip from his fingers. Suddenly, she felt nauseous. Only Ares' arm around her enabled her to stay upright.
"There's no need to be concerned," Ares assured her boss. "I will see that Dr. Albritton is well protected."
Harry eyed Ares critically for just a moment, but something in the god's expression must have given him pause, because he nodded at last. "Thanks. I don't want to lose her. She's the best thing to happen to this museum in a long time."
Ares smiled down at her, his fingers lightly caressing her arm. "And for me as well," he said in a low tone full of meaning.
"Well, I've got a meeting to go to," Harry said. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Black. You two be careful tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay," Jess agreed faintly, and Harry took his leave.
She watched her boss go, then looked up at the God of War. "That man died because of me."
Ares shook his head. "That's not so. He died because of Otus." He touched her face lightly, caressing her cheek. "There is no reason for you to feel guilty. And Otus will pay. I assure you of that." He bent forward, kissing her softly on the forehead.
"Why do you think he invited us out there?" she asked. "He seemed so afraid of you. You ARE more powerful than he is, aren't you?"
Ares shrugged. "I don't know. Probably. I am older, after all. And I've felt stronger lately. I had almost fallen completely asleep in that jar, but then about two or three years ago, I seemed to hear voices calling my name. They've been louder lately, almost a chorus." He shook his head in puzzlement. "They gave me the strength to reach out to you, to help you find the way to open the jar."
Jess stared at him in amazement. "You did that?" she asked.
Ares nodded. "Something in you called to me. A fire. A passion. I was able to guide you to the key." He smiled slightly. "I felt a kinship with you that I've not felt for centuries." He glanced up at the door through which Otus had just departed. "As for Otus, I'm sure he's hoping to contact some of the other gods to help him against me. Then he will be able to fight me on his own grounds and his own terms."
Jess nodded thoughtfully. "Oh, I get it. Home court advantage."
Ares' brow furrowed. "What?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. I understand what you mean. So are we going?"
A slow, dangerous smile crossed the lips of the God of War. "Oh yes," he said softly. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."
After the confrontation at the museum, neither one of them was in the mood for a tour of Dallas, so after a quick stop by the grocery store to pick up some food, they headed back to her house. Surprisingly enough, Ares behaved very well in the store until they reached the checkout stand. There his fascination with the scanner caused a few raised eyebrows. Once they reached the house and unloaded the car, Jess left Ares in front of the TV to put up the groceries.
She had just about finished when a loud explosion came from the living room. She rushed in to discover a smoking black hole in the wall beside the television.
"What did you do that for?" she yelled, gaping at the hole in dismay.
Ares was standing in front of the television, pointing at the screen, so furious that he was shaking. "Hercules!" he snarled.
"Ares!" Jess groaned. "Remember that talk we had? That's an actor. It's just a television show. It's NOT real."
Ares didn't move. He threw back his head and howled "Hercules!" at the top of his lungs. He blasted another hole in the wall, this one above the television, taking out a picture that time.
"Dammit, Ares!" she yelled. "Cut it out." She ran over to him and grabbed his arm. The look he turned on her was frightening, but she didn't let him intimidate her. "That is NOT Hercules."
Ares glared down at her. "Yes, it is. That is Hercules."
She shook her head. "No," she said slowly, enunciating carefully. "That is an actor named Kevin Sorbo. He only plays Hercules in this television series."
He bent down so that his face was on the same level as hers, then said, just as slowly, "No, THAT IS HERCULES!"
Jess gaped at him. She glanced back at the television screen that showed the legendary hero walking down a path, a baby strapped to his back. "You mean, that's the REAL Hercules?"
Ares nodded and cocked his arm back again, but Jess grabbed it before he could strike. "Stop knocking holes in my wall," she griped. "Just chill out."
Ares relented reluctantly, and she sat down on the couch, staring at the screen. The baby was in the process of levitating Hercules' blond sidekick, Iolaus. "I just can't believe it," she said. "Hercules is still alive, too."
Ares came to sit beside her, his furious gaze still locked on his hated half-brother. "What is he doing?" he growled. "Acting? Dad must be livid."
Jess grinned. "Kevin Sorbo is really Hercules. This is just TOO wild."
Ares stood up and began to pace. "Where is he?" he demanded. "I want to go there NOW!"
Jess shrugged. "I don't know. California, I guess. I mean, the show is filmed in New Zealand, but Sorbo's American. He probably lives in California."
"Then that's where I will go," Ares said in a low dangerous tone.
Jess sprang to her feet. "You're going now?" she asked, suddenly terrified that he would leave her. "But . . . but what about Otus?"
That made him pause. "Oh, yes," he said faintly. "I still need to take care of Otus." He began to pace again, back and forth, until his gaze wandered to the television once again. "Who is THAT?" he asked, pointing at the screen.
Jess looked over. On the show, Ares, God of War, and Discord were plotting. "That's you," she said with a small smile.
Ares sat down, his dark gaze fixed on the screen. "He's rather handsome," he said after a bit.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. He is, isn't he? His name's Kevin Smith."
"Who is that PERSON he's talking to?"
Ares cocked an eyebrow. "That looks NOTHING like Discord."
Jess snorted. "Thank goodness. I can't stand her. She looks like an S and M version of Marie Osmond."
"S and M?" he asked, puzzled.
"Oh God," Jess groaned. "Let's not go there, okay?"
Ares' attention returned to the screen, and he became calmer as he watched the show. "This Kevin Smith is really quite good. Not quite as handsome as I am maybe, but then I AM a god."
"He's got quite a following," Jess agreed. "He's on this show and Xena."
Ares glanced over at her, confused. "What is a Xena?"
Jess burst out laughing. "Don't worry about it."
The action on the show had gone back to Hercules and Iolaus, and Ares began to tense again. "After I take care of Otus," he growled, "I will go to this California and visit my brother."
Jess' heart stopped. He was going to leave her. Then she began to admonish herself. What was she thinking anyway? He was a god. She was a mortal. Once she took him to see Otus tomorrow, he would have no more use for her. "I'm going to go lie down," she said faintly, then rose to go to the bedroom. Before she opened the door, however, a soft voice stopped her.
She turned, and Ares was there, looking down at her tenderly.
"Did you really think I would leave you?"
She nodded her head miserably. "You're going to California," she pointed out.
"Yes," he agreed. "But not alone. I want you to go with me."
Jess gazed up into his beautiful eyes, stunned. "Go with you? But . . . but what about . . . but I can't leave here."
Ares cocked his head. "Why not?"
"Well, my job is here. My whole life is here. I can't just up and leave."
Ares gazed at her, his dark eyes imploring. "I want you with me," he said. "I know nothing of your world. I need a guide. I need you." He brushed the hair away from her face softly and added, "I want YOU."
Jess' emotions were in a tangle. She wanted to be with him, but how could she leave everything she had ever known behind? "I don't know what to do," she whispered.
Ares leaned forward, his mouth hovering over hers. "Come with me," he whispered softly, then claimed her lips as his own. He took her to bed and made love to her, but later, as she lay in his arms, Jess couldn't go to sleep. She stared at the ceiling, her thoughts in turmoil. She wanted to go, but she couldn't leave her whole life behind. Could she?
The next day, Jess drove them to Otus' mansion south of town. It was a huge sprawling house that looked completely out of place amongst the ranches which dotted this part of Texas. It looked more like a brooding castle, all turrets and odd angles. Out in front was a giant fountain showing Poseidon emerging from the waves. Now that Jess was aware of Otus' parentage, she understood his fascination with water.
Jess had been here before for a museum benefit, and she remembered how strange the inside of the house was. There were more fountains inside, including some which seemed to defy gravity by flowing in odd directions. Aquariums of every size and shape abounded, filled with every imaginable creature from the sea. The lighting was such that even in the middle of the largest room, one seemed to be underwater. The effect made Jess quite ill.
Otus' companion, a blond woman named Mahrina, met them at the door and escorted them inside. Jess wondered if she might ought to revise her opinion of the woman. She'd always assumed that Mahrina was a bit dumb. The blond simply came to the board meetings, listened without saying a word, signed whatever needed to be signed, then left. But Mahrina had been with Otus for as long as Jess had worked at the museum. Surely she had to be somewhat intelligent to survive that long with a god.
Ares was polite to the woman, but just, which amused Jess greatly. Mahrina was one of those women who tended to make men completely lose their good sense. She was tall, and her body, currently sheathed in a short red minidress that showed every curve to advantage, was unreal. Jess was proud of her own body, but the blond had breasts that could be considered lethal weapons. Ares, however, seemed immune to her charms.
Mahrina led them to a large dining room dominated by a massive table that ran the entire length of the room. Jess couldn't even begin to count the chairs. One long wall was dotted with windows, and the other was taken up with the largest aquarium Jess had ever seen. A huge bar sat against the far wall, and pedestals with Greek vases were arranged here and there about the room.
One end of the dining table had been set with four places, so at least they wouldn't have to shout at each other down the great length of the table. Mahrina indicated that they should take the seats just to the right of the head of the table, and she herself took the seat to the left. Ares was careful to take the seat next to the head, offering some protection for Jess, a gesture that caused the blond to raise an eyebrow, but she made no comment. The three of them sat down and made stilted conversation as they waited for their host.
Otus finally made his appearance, sweeping through the doorway grandly, his very presence seeming to fill the room. He was dressed casually in dark blue slacks and an aqua turtleneck that seemed to accentuate his height. His manner was confident, but Jess thought she detected doubt behind his sea-green eyes.
The meal had already been laid out, so their host entreated them to partake of the fare. Jess was puzzled at first by the lack of servants, but then she realized that Otus must have let them all go for the day, a fact that did not alleviate her nervousness. Not surprisingly, the meal was all seafood: turtle soup, shrimp cocktail, sea bass. It was a scrumptious repast, but Jess could do no more than pick at her meal. Her stomach was knotted with dread.
Otus immediately began a spiel that sounded to Jess like something one might hear from a used-car salesman. He waxed poetic about the way the world had changed and the role of the gods in this new era. Ares was uncommonly silent, and Jess noticed that he wasn't eating much either.
At last the meal was done, and Otus sat back in his chair, eyeing Ares thoughtfully. "So, my old friend," he began. "Now we come down to it. You cannot kill me. You have not yet recovered from your confinement, and your powers are weak. In a contest between us, you would surely lose. Why provoke it? Why don't we just let bygones be bygones? You go your way; I go mine."
Ares picked up his fork, twisting it idly in his fingers, considering his opponent's words. Then he looked up, a predatory grin crossing his lips. "What's the matter, Otus? Couldn't find anyone to help out?"
Otus shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I don't have any idea what you mean," he said gruffly.
Ares scooted back his chair and rose, paced over to the windows lining one wall of the room and looked out over the extensive lawns of the mansion. "I don't feel the presence of any of your family. You couldn't even get your father to help you?"
Otus snorted. "Poseidon is off taking care of another damned oil spill. These blasted mortals seemed bent on destroying their world."
Otus began to fidget with his napkin. "I haven't seen my brother in quite some time. We had a . . . a bit of a falling out."
Ares turned back to look at his opponent, amused. "Let me guess. Artemis."
Otus sneered. "That bitch. She betrayed us all. One lesson I learned from all that: never trust a woman."
"Watch it, Otus," Mahrina said, obviously taking offense. The giant ignored her.
Ares gazed levelly at his fellow god. "So what you want is for me to just forgive you for locking me away for all those years, is that correct?"
Jess didn't like the tone of Ares' voice. Suddenly, she wondered if this place was going to be safe for much longer.
Otus smiled. "What choice do you have, Ares? I AM stronger than you. You don't want to fight me."
Ares returned the smile, except that his seemed much colder and MUCH more confident. "Oh, but I do." In the blink of an eye, he had cocked back an arm and launched a bolt of red lightning straight at the giant.
"Oh, shit," Mahrina breathed. As Otus moved to block Ares, she reached across the table and grabbed Jess, shaking her. "Come on, honey. Let's get out of the way before we get hurt."
Jess joined the blond, but unfortunately, the two battling gods were blocking the exit. Mahrina pulled her over behind the massive bar. They crouched down, peeking around the sides, watching the two gods battle.
Ares sent fire toward his opponent, but Otus immediately drenched it with a spray of water. With a growl, Ares launched himself at the giant, knocking the tall god to the ground. They rolled on the floor, pummeling each other, knocking chairs and vases every which way. A hefty kick, and Otus went sailing across the room. He rolled to his feet smoothly, however, and flew through the air to knock Ares back to the ground again.
"I hate this shit," Mahrina said, exasperated. "It's such a hassle redecorating."
Jess gaped at the woman. "This has happened before?"
Mahrina threw back her head and laughed shrilly. "Honey, Otus has pissed off every god on Olympus at one time or another. Those guys have the LONGEST memories." She ducked as a vase came flying through the air and crashed into the wall close to them. "Sometimes I wish I'd never met him, but he's just so damned good in bed."
Jess burst out laughing, but the woman didn't seem to take offense. Her eyes were glued to the fight. She shook her head in awe. "Man, oh man. You've got yourself a hot one there. He is something else. Look at those muscles. It's not going to surprise me one bit if he wins this one." She turned a calculating eye on Jess. "Tell me, honey. Is he any good in the sack? How often do y'all do it?"
Jess was saved from having to answer as a chair smashed into the cabinet they were hiding behind, smashing bottles and sending a rain of glass down on top of them.
"Dammit," Mahrina snapped. "I just had that thing filled up. This has gone far enough." She wriggled out from behind the cabinet. "Would you two just STOP!" she screamed.
Thankfully, the two gods did stop, both panting heavily. "You see, Ares," Otus said triumphantly. "You can't defeat me."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Ares growled, tensing to spring once again.
"Enough!" Otus commanded. "Touch me again, and I'll kill your mortal." He raised a hand, pointing it menacingly at Jess.
Jess backed away, but there was nowhere to go. Ares glared at Otus. "And I will kill yours," he informed the god, pointing at Mahrina.
Otus looked back and forth between his companion and his foe. At last, he shrugged. "I can always get another."
"Hey!" Mahrina yelled, furious. She picked up one of the vases beside her and launched it across the room, hitting Otus squarely on the head. It didn't hurt the god, but it did capture his attention long enough for Ares to strike. A giant ball of fire flew across the room and enveloped the giant. Smoke filled the air, and a deadly silence fell.
"Ares?" Jess called, waving the smoke away, trying to see. When at last the room began to clear, she saw her lover, standing in the middle of the room, grinning triumphantly. "Where's Otus?" she asked. "Did you kill him?"
Ares shook his head. "Can't do that, remember?"
"Where is that slimy worm?" Mahrina asked angrily. "I can't believe he said that. After all I've done for him. I'm going to kick his ass."
Ares began to laugh. At last, he pointed toward the aquarium inset into the dining room wall. There, swimming frantically in the water, was a long, green (and yes, slimy) eel which hadn't been there before.
Mahrina burst out laughing. "THAT'S Otus?" she cried. "Oh, that's wonderful. How fitting."
Jess couldn't help but join in. When she'd regained some control, she asked, "Ares, are you just going to leave him like that?"
Ares grinned. "Oh yeah. For a while anyway. Poseidon will eventually come along and change him back." His grin widened further. "Eventually."
Mahrina tapped on the glass with one long red fingernail. "And I'll be sure and take GOOD care of him till Daddy comes," she promised. The three of them exchanged glances and burst out laughing again as the eel swam back and forth furiously inside the aquarium.
Back home at last, Jess looked around the ruins of her living room. Ares came up behind her and put his arms around her. "I did rather make a mess, didn't I?" He raised a hand to repair the damage, but Jess stopped him.
"Don't," she said softly. "Leave it. It'll give me something to remember you by."
Ares turned her around, gazing down at her sadly. "Then you've made your choice?"
She nodded. "Ares, I don't know much about the world. This has been my home for my entire life. I doubt I'd be any help to you." He opened his mouth to protest, but she held her hand up to his lips, hushing him. "Besides, I saw how Otus treated Mahrina. I couldn't bear it if you ever treated me like that."
Ares' eyes narrowed. "I am NOT Otus," he declared hotly.
Jess couldn't help but smile. "I know," she said, tears gathering in her eyes. "But it doesn't change the basic fact that you're a god, and I'm a mortal. It just wouldn't work out."
Ares' gaze searched her face. His sadness seemed to grow at what he saw there. "I will miss you," he said softly.
Jess raised a hand and touched his cheek. "And I you," she whispered. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him softly. "Make love to me, Ares. Once more, before you leave."
Without a word, the god gathered her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom, then laid her gently on the bed. His dark eyes spoke volumes as he bent his head to kiss her softly. His mouth explored hers, first gently, then harder as hunger consumed them both. Ares' hands began to move over her body, exploring every inch of her, almost as if he were memorizing her every curve. In the blink of an eye, their clothes vanished, and he ran his fingers across her bare skin, fire burning through her everywhere he touched.
He began to kiss his way down her body, not missing a single inch, lingering on her breasts. His tongue outlined one nipple teasingly, then he pulled it into his mouth and began a gentle suction which caused her to moan deep in the back of her throat. He moved his attentions to the other breast, suckling gently, and then he continued a path down her body, licking and kissing every portion of her, until at last he parted her legs and moved between them.
Jess tensed, waiting for him, aching for his touch, until she felt his hot breath on her thighs. She moaned again as she felt his tongue part her nether lips, then slide inside to taste her. She breathed his name and reached down, stroking his dark curls as he continued to partake of her. She arched her back as his fingers entered her at last, exploring her. His lips wrapped around the little nub that caused so much pleasure, sucking gently, and when he found that one spot inside her that drove her mad, she cried out as her body found release, shaking violently as the spasms of her orgasm tore through her.
He began to kiss his way back up her body, paying special attention to her breasts once again, until at last he reached her lips. He lay full on top of her, a welcome weight, and cupped her face in his hands. His dark eyes captured hers, and his gaze never left her face as he entered her slowly. He began moving in and out just as slowly, drawing out each stroke until it seemed to take a lifetime. She reached up a hand to stroke his cheek as he continued to move in and out of her body. Tears filled her eyes as she arched up into him, taking him deeper, meeting each thrust. His strokes came faster as his need grew, and still she matched him, wrapping her legs around his waist so that he could plunge even deeper inside her. The friction was almost painful in intensity, and at last she felt another orgasm upon her, a white-hot heat that seemed to envelop her whole being. Her body began to contract around him, and he breathed her name as his face contorted, his hot seed filling her. His mouth came down on hers, and she hugged him close, tears flowing unchecked now. Only now that he was about to leave her did she realize how much she loved him. How could she let him go?
"Hurry up," Harry Weems said, urging his companion to unlock the door to the house.
"Okay, okay," the woman griped. "Just chill out, Harry." She finally managed to unlock the door and pushed inside, glancing around the living room.
"Jesus," Harry breathed, taking in the holes in the wall and the shattered stereo. "What the hell happened in here?"
The woman didn't answer; she headed for the open bedroom door. Harry followed her inside. She walked over to the closet and threw wide the doors. "I don't believe it," Lisa said. "Most of her clothes are gone and so is her suitcase. She really left."
Harry looked down at the resignation letter he held clutched in his hand. "I can't believe she'd just walk out on me like this," he said, shaking his head.
Lisa gazed absently at her best friend's ex-boss. "And I never even got to meet the guy. What a bitch."
MEANWHILE IN SUNNY CALIFORNIA
The terminal at LAX was busy as usual as the plane from Texas began disembarking. The airline hostess whose job it was to guide passengers on their way through the crowded airport watched as a couple emerged from the hallway leading away from the plane. Even in California where beautiful people were the norm, these two stood out. The man was tall with raven-black curls outlining a handsome face that sported a devilishly attractive beard and mustache. Dark, sensual eyes took in everything around him with interest, and he wore a gray Armani suit that couldn't quite hide his muscular body. The hostess felt a pang of envy for the woman on the man's arm, but she had to admit his companion was a perfect match. Her hair was as black as his, falling in curls to the middle of her back, and her gray eyes sparkled as she gazed up at the man. Her short white dress hugged her full figure, accentuating every curve. The couple walked arm in arm straight toward the hostess.
"Welcome to California," she said brightly. "I hope you have a pleasant stay."
The man smiled down at his companion. "I'm sure we will."
"May I help direct you?" the hostess asked, her eyes lingering on the man's full lips, unable to stop the lustful images that were now parading across her brain.
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "I see our ride now."
The hostess glanced behind her to see an extremely thin young man with dark hair and skin so pale it was as if it had never been touched by the sun. The couple moved past her and went to join the man. With a pang of regret, the hostess turned to her next set of passengers, but still she heard the greeting behind her.
Continue on to the sequel The Americanization of Ares