‘Til Death: Aphrodite
Part of the Free Reads Collection
Hephaestus. His name tasted like poison. It burned her throat. Made her nauseous—but no more nauseous than the word marriage had only moments earlier. Her eyes narrowed at the man before her, the one who ruled the gods with a ridiculous temper and an unstoppable libido. Zeus. With the titans vanquished, there was no higher power in her world than the man draped in silken fabric. His throne pulsed with magic, electricity. She’d felt it every time she ventured there, away from the rest of the Olympus mountain peaks to his private seat among the Muses.
This time, she’d felt different about his summoning—apprehensive. Some of her adopted brethren, the mighty Olympians, were called forth to be disciplined before the throne of Zeus. Aphrodite, meanwhile, had never so much as put a toe out of line—in her personal opinion, of course. But then Hermes had arrived in her gardens that morning, interrupting her bath to bring word that Zeus required her company.
She feared no man but Zeus. For Zeus was all knowing, all seeing, and Zeus never shied from punishing those who’d wronged him, even amongst the Immortal Twelve.
And despite his gentle tone and his soft expression, that was exactly what this little declaration felt like: a punishment. Tears pricked her eyes, and she hastily blinked them away. Taking a deep breath, she batted her eyelashes and forced a smile, morphing from enraged to beguiling in a heartbeat. She’d charmed many an Olympian to get what she wanted—why should Zeus be any different?
“Surely,” the love goddess began, her voice soft and girlish—Zeus so hated his wife Hera’s throaty admonishments, “surely you cannot mean to marry me to—”
“It is decided,” he rumbled, crossing his bare feet at the ankles, stretched out on his throne like a vision of utmost ease and comfort. Aphrodite’s gaze hardened, her delicate hands curling to trembling fists. “It has been chaos since you arrived.”
“You…” She pointed to him, all the while knowing she’d regret it later, with a single finger, her nail curved and pink. “You are not my father. I was not birthed by your seed, and you will not dictate who I wed—”
“You live in my house,” he thundered, and below the mountain he’d claimed for him and him alone trembled. The humans would cower, hurry into their homes, knowing that Zeus’s wrath had been evoked. “By my will, you do not wander this world alone! Every comfort has been given, and you want for naught.”
He had a point, of course, but it was difficult to see through her blinding rage.
“I do not wish to marry,” she began, but his eyes snapped back to her so sharply, his long hair bristling with static, that she pressed her lips together in silence.
“I will not have this pantheon fall to ruin because they are all willing to kill each other over you,” he said with a lazy wave of his hand. Aphrodite bit down hard on her cheeks at the dismissive quality his voice had suddenly taken. The electric energy in the air faded, the mountain stood still. The conversation was over. “You will marry Hephaestus. He is good and just. My sons will stop this ridiculous quarrel for your heart should they wish for him to continue making their weapons, and the matter will be resolved. Besides… He will do well in curbing your temper.”
Aphrodite scoffed, her arms folded across her ample chest. “You speak of temper…”
Daringly, her eyes wandered to his, and in them she saw the wildfire, the amber orbs alight with flame. She was right to fear him, wrong to push him. She knew that. The god before her could level the world if he chose to, and by his good graces she flourished on Olympus, a sea of adoring worshippers across the lands begging for her attentions.
But this… This was beyond what she could stand. Marriage. Marriage to him. Kind and just, yes. Boring—beyond a doubt. Tedious. Distracted with brimstone and metal. So rarely tempted by her tricks. Hephaestus. God of many things, but not her heart.
Biting her tongue, Aphrodite turned and marched her sandal-clad feet to the great doorway sandwiched between two columns, white and smooth. Why Zeus chose to set his throne deep in the heart of his own personal little mountain and not where he could see the stars was beyond her, but she was eager to breathe free air again.
“Aphrodite.” She stopped, little bumps rising across her skin as his voice crept up her figure like a tongue, caressing every crevice. “Have you forgotten something?”
She blinked once, twice, and then turned again. When they gazed upon one another again from across the hall, she was the temptress everyone knew her as, with heavy-lidded eyes and pouty lips.
“Thank you, Mighty One,” she breathed, and even at a distance, she knew he’d hear from atop his throne. Her jaw clenched when he smirked, and as soon as he waved her off, she was gone.
* * * *
Her first thought was to return to her home. The Mighty Twelve all had palaces buried deep within Mount Olympus, each touched by godly magic and detailed to suit their needs. Some, like Artemis, chose to keep things on a small scale, while others, like Aphrodite, reveled in the dozens of rooms and baths and trickling waterfalls and plush beds for her many guests to enjoy. Dionysus was much the same, and she’d welcomed the god of wine into her palatial home on many occasions, playing host to a number of his infamous gatherings. It was her sanctuary, but also, in a way, an extension of her. She’d altered the ceilings to always show the most beautiful of weather; just because she was deep in a magical mountain for the gods didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy pristine sunlight and clear blue skies, painted in pinks and purples and reds as Helios urged his great chariot across the sky in time with the outside world.
But Aphrodite couldn’t bring herself back to her sanctuary after she left Zeus’s throne room, too worried she would destroy it the second she climbed off her young buck. The creature had been nervous enough accepting the infuriated goddess onto his back, and she knew the rest of the beasts in her domain would feel much the same.
No sense in frightening them because Zeus had all but given her a death sentence.
It was death to her independence, to her freedom—to her womanhood. Marriage was a shackle she never wanted, and yet here it was, thrust upon her so suddenly. She was barely five centuries old; there was still so much to do!
Home wasn’t an option. Instead, she steered her buck to the realm of the god she adored above all others. If Zeus was the man she most feared, Ares was the one she most loved. Naturally, there were other dalliances to speak of, and Adonis had been a particular prize she enjoyed, but in the end, she’d always come back to Ares. His strength. His fury. His passion for her, for war and battle. His sculpted features. Ares excited her—but he could also withstand her rage. Matched in temper, she almost wished Zeus had given her to one son instead of the other.
As she gripped the soft pale fur of her buck, bent over him as he traversed between the realms of the Twelve, she all but trembled at the thought of Ares’s reaction to what his father had done. Perhaps he would storm the throne room, sword in hand and a sea of warriors just as bloodthirsty as he at his back, and challenge the old god for Aphrodite’s hand. Perhaps he would challenge his brother. Hephaestus may have crafted the swords her love wielded for war, but he was in no way as skilled at using them. Adequate. No worse than Hestia, probably—she’d never paid much attention to him in the arena before.
No, it was Ares who had always ensnared her. What ruin he would bring to those who tried to take her from him. What desecration. Zeus had wanted to stop the chaos, to quell the squabbles between all the gods who desired her hand, but in giving her to his crippled blacksmith son, he had invited chaos out into the open.
Aphrodite would see to that.
Her handsome buck slowed to a stop in a forest clearing, and Aphrodite dismounted, sending him away to enjoy the lush greenery while she busied herself with Ares. Olympus was overladen with trees and springs, exquisite by the will of the many gods who called the mountain and its surrounding range their home. Ares’s cave was usually unguarded, a testament to how secure he felt. Should anyone wish to challenge him, let them. Aphrodite strode in unhindered, her hands still clenched tight in fists. She moved through darkness, the scent of the cave bothering her only fleetingly—it vanished when she reached the magical barrier. Crossing it brought her from dark to light, from rock and dampness to war-ravaged skies and scraggly plant life.
Like many of his siblings, Ares had constructed a large palace made of the best building materials. Inside she knew she’d see extravagance, but it was nothing compared to the training arenas he’d had built in his name nearby. Tracks. Archery ranges. Combat squares. Wrestling halls. His men trained there, sleeping in subdued barracks when Ares was through with them.
As she suspected, she didn’t find her love in the palace with its blackened walls and deep red linens, but rather out in the pits, where he fought with a half-god lieutenant whose name Aphrodite couldn’t be bothered to remember.
Neither stopped when she approached, the clang of sword against sword, shield against shield, echoing throughout the war god’s realm. She waited, but not for long. Ares could do many things to her, but she refused to be ignored. Snatching a thin spear with a jagged tip, Aphrodite hurled the weapon across the arena, catching the edge of the lieutenant’s shield. The spear sunk in hard and deep, causing the demi-god to stagger. Arms crossed, she waited, temper simmering, as Ares straightened up and turned, lifting his training helmet with a surly expression.
When the haze cleared and the blood-lust faded, she noted the way her lover’s features altered from irritable to amused. He brushed his sparring partner off with a few words and a chuckle. With her lower lip caught between her teeth, she tilted her head to the side to admire him as he approached. Sweat glistened off every hard curve and contour. Tall and broad, Ares personified the perfect warrior in every sense of the word. Physically, he was her vice, her weakness. Some days, there was nothing Aphrodite liked to do better than trail her lips, her tongue, over every part of his body—only because she couldn’t get enough of it.
He tossed his helmet and sword aside, the shield falling shortly after, and strolled right up to her to take from her a deep, breath-stealing kiss. Their lips met and parted, tongues thrusting into one another’s mouths as Ares backed her up against the wall behind her. Lust bloomed at the slightest touch from her warrior love, and she didn’t even mind the way his sweat seeped into her soft gold gown; Aphrodite always enjoyed leaving a bout smelling like her most recent lover, just as they would smell and feel and taste her for days, months, years after, depending on the tryst.
Without thinking, her hand slid between their entwined bodies to cup him, his thick hardness tucked away in nothing more than a slip of fabric. Muscular thighs, bare and taut, pressed against her, and she swallowed his groan as she stroked him.
No. There was a purpose for her visit—this could wait.
The world ought to applaud her restraint.
“Wait,” she whispered, pulling back and gasping as his lips wandered her neck. Briefly, she almost lost herself again, but managed to shove him away—barely. His thick, dark eyebrows furrowed, and he swiped a hand over his lips. He had his father’s fire, and it burned brighter in Ares’s eyes than any she’d ever seen before. Passion. He was so desperately passionate he could probably consume her. Swallowing hard, she pushed off the wall and straightened out her gown, her thighs tingling with arousal, wet from his touch, his kiss. With a slight clear of her throat, she raised her chin and said, “I saw Zeus today. He summoned me.”
“Please tell me you have not interrupted my training for that,” he said, grumbling. Out of nowhere, a small serving boy had appeared, and Ares snatched the chalice of wine from his hand. “And?”
Her lips pursed, annoyed that he had the audacity to be irritable with her. “He has arranged for me to marry Hephaestus.”
She hadn’t expected him to laugh—but that was precisely what he did. As the servant scuttled away, her greatest love snorted into his drink, wine spilling down his face when he straightened up.
“You can’t be serious.”
“I am,” she all but cried, throwing her hands up as she started to pace. How dare he laugh? After wiping his mouth again, Ares tossed the silver chalice aside and stood still, his hands on his hips, his jaw clenched. She’d wanted an explosion. She’d wanted a rage so powerful that it would rock this mountain right down to its very foundations.
Instead, she was greeted with pensive consideration.
And it burned her more than anything Zeus had said to her that day.
“Why are you not angry?” she demanded, her eyes quickly filling with enraged tears. “Share in my horror! Do you feel nothing?”
“Of course I feel something,” Ares spat, the flames bursting in his gaze. “Of course I am angry, but what can I do? Defy my father? Kill my crippled brother?”
Something. Anything. Aphrodite held herself in a solo hug, the heavy weight of this world suddenly settling on her shoulders. Perhaps she’d hoped that Ares would save her, that he’d find a way to spare her from this gruesome fate.
“You know it’s all Hera’s doing,” he continued with a slight roll of his eyes, as if her news was too insignificant for him to fill his precious time. “You’re my brother’s reward for getting her unstuck from that golden throne that he trapped her on in the first place.”
“I’ll still bed you whenever I choose to.” Crossing the distance between them, he pushed her back against the wall. “Should your new husband actually be a threat, perhaps I would do something.”
She raised an eyebrow, wishing she’d feel comfort from his touch—instead of nothingness. “So you are not concerned another man will touch me?”
“Other men touch you all the time,” he said, laughing again, “but only I own your heart.”
Aphrodite wished to say more. Oh, she wished to scream more, maybe shake him, hit him, but she didn’t. Instead, she let him kiss her, tasting finality on his tongue, and let him turn her in place so that her cheek pressed to the wall as he fucked her, taking her harshly, as if to reassure himself that he still had a claim to her body.
Meanwhile, she stared across the curved perimeter of the sparring arena, going through the motions of lovemaking, her mind quite far away.
This conversation wasn’t over. She would find a way to liberate herself from the bonds of dreaded matrimony.
One way or another.