Soul in Darkness (Page 52)

But I wanted my mind and conscience to be clear first. I had to deal with his mother.

So, here we were.

We walked through a high-ceilinged atrium and through a columned walkway to a sun-drenched opening in the center of her property. A gleaming fountain stood in the middle, mesmerizing me, proving that something stronger than water flowed from its bowels. I tore my eyes away as Venus glided from behind it, her chin tilted up, her arms crossed. She gave no hint of how she felt as her eyes landed on me.

“You made it out.” She looked at Cupid. “See, son. All that commotion for nothing.”

He took a step forward, but I grasped his wrist. “Your box of ointment, goddess.”

Her eyes flitted downward as I moved forward, holding it out. For a moment, she looked as if she might blast me away with her power, but I moved forward with careful, steady steps, stopping close enough for her to accept the box. She took it and eyed me.

“Congratulations, mortal girl.”

In a torrent of bravery, I responded, “Thank you, Mother.”

Her eyes widened and blazed, making Cupid chuckle and move forward to join us. He wrapped a hand over my shoulder.

“Is that all?” Venus asked. “I am very busy.”

“One more thing,” I said, placing a hand on my abdomen. “Is the child all right? After all I’ve been through, I cannot help but worry.”

Venus took two shallow breaths before her eyes lowered to my belly, a quick glance, then back up to my eyes.

“Everything is fine. You carry a resilient soul.” She peered at her son again. “I am not surprised.”

A smile of relief beamed from my face as I thanked her and smiled up into Cupid’s beautiful eyes. My heart ached to look upon him and receive his gaze so richly in return. He gave my shoulder a squeeze.

Both Venus and Cupid lifted their eyes to the sky, foreheads scrunching.

“Who could that be?” his mother whispered.

I strained my senses but could not hear or see a thing. Cupid took my hand and led me back a few steps until we were under the protective awning. He stepped slightly in front of me as a massive carriage of gold and bronze set down from the sky, drawn by two large, immortal war horses with hooves and teeth that could slice. In the chariot was an enormous male in grand, gilded attire, leaving no doubt in my mind he was a god of the highest power. His beard and hair were thick, perfect waves of rich brown. In his hand was a lustrous thunderbolt as large as a staff. He turned an eye to Venus with a nod, then Cupid, and then me.

By instinct, my hand slipped from Cupid’s and I slid to the ground, bowing on my knees, my head down, my heart beating as if I were winded. My body and soul knew without a doubt—this was the god of the sky and thunder—Jupiter himself.

“The rumors are true,” his glorious, rumbling voice said, making me shudder. “Cupid has taken a mortal female?”

“I have, Lord Jupiter,” my husband said with pride that made me melt further into the marble floors. “Her name is Princess Psyche.”

“Ah. Soul.” I felt the king’s eyes boring into me. “Stand, dear Psyche.”

Cupid took my hand and helped me to my feet. I was still weary and weak, though free of pain now. It took all my effort to look at Jupiter. Gods, he glowed. To behold such a supreme being was too much for my senses.

“Though, I wonder,” Jupiter said. “How much of what I heard was truth, and how much was gossip? Enlighten me, Venus.”

The goddess lifted her chin. “I certainly shall.”

She began her side of the tale, and in truth, it was embarrassing to hear her speak of the faithlessness of my parents and people.

When it got to the part about Cupid attempting to strike me with his arrow to make me fall in love with a loathsome pig farmer, but accidentally striking himself instead, I gasped and stared up at him. Was that a blush clawing up his neck to his cheeks?

I recalled that day. The strange yearning to see the piglets. It made me short of breath to think what would have happened if Cupid had struck me.

Jupiter chuckled, grasping the edges of the chariot as mirth overtook him. Apparently, the thought of Cupid acting a fool in love was amusing to both him and Venus, but the thought sickened me. Was that why he loved me? Because of the tincture?

“But long after the effects of the potions wore off,” Venus said, “he still acted strangely, dragging out his task. I knew something was not right.”

“He still loved her.” Jupiter peered between the three of us, then back at Venus. “Fascinating. Go on.”

Cupid squeezed my fingers, and I exhaled. It wasn’t the potion. His mother continued, detailing exactly how Cupid had sent every eligible suitor running from me, and then outlining their bargain. I felt ill by the time she finished. Together, they had toyed with my family, playing with those suitors and my life as if we were inconsequential. To them, we were nothing.

I was nothing.

I pulled my hand away from Cupid to wipe my face, which was dry, and then I crossed my arms. When I did not reach for his hand again, Cupid gave me a tight-browed glance. I kept my eyes on Venus as she spoke.

She’d disguised herself as the old crone and given my family false information about Cupid, hoping I would beg for them to visit, knowing my husband might succumb to my wishes.

Then she outlined the tasks. Jupiter’s face was lit up as if watching a theatre performance or gladiators in the arena. I had mixed feelings about being fodder for the gods’ entertainment, although I knew that was what humans were for. It was impossible not to take it personally.

As she spoke of the tasks, Cupid stepped away, his arms crossing.

“And so, I left her at the tower with the box and instructions, and today she returned to me, the task completed.”

Her words were matter-of-fact, not letting on how she felt about my success. I felt Jupiter’s eyes on me.

“Tell us every detail of your journey.”

Could I refuse? I wanted to but dared not. The entire ordeal was beyond humiliating. I started with how I had been beaten by the servants of Venus. She held a hand over her chest in innocence while Jupiter raised a disappointed eyebrow and Cupid’s hands tightened into fists.

I went on, telling every detail as he had asked, though I could not muster any excitement. I gave the facts, rather monotone as I stared dead ahead at the fountain, not caring if the king of the gods enjoyed my retelling or not.

I probably should have cared.

When I finished explaining how I had awoken in Cupid’s arms, I swear Jupiter’s eyes were gleaming. Was it possible my journey had pulled at his heartstrings?

“I told you not to open the box,” Venus scolded.

“You did,” I agreed. “And I regret it for many reasons. I was not in my right mind.”

“Let me ask you this,” Jupiter said. “After all you have been through, more than any mortal woman I have known, how do you feel now about our god of love?”

I swallowed, looked at my sheepish husband, then back at the king of the gods.

“I find it disheartening that the god of love could cause so much suffering. Not only in my life, but the lives of others.” I felt Cupid stiffen beside me.

“I have always wondered the same,” Jupiter said, eyeing Cupid. “But it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the greatness of adoration himself. He was merely awaiting his perfect match—a woman who would make him work for her love. A woman with the strength of heart to take on a goddess and face death, then live to tell about it. Ah, yes, mortal, our Cupid has been waiting for you.”

I dropped my eyes as emotion overcame me, heating my chest and causing my limbs to tingle. A response eluded me. I wanted to believe the king of the gods. Indeed, what he said should have filled me with humbled appreciation. But as much as my heart wanted to grasp those romantic words and cling to Cupid, there was new information to consider.

My head tilted up to Cupid, and the absolute plea in his eyes nearly broke me. I pressed my lips together.

Venus stepped toward Jupiter. “Tell me you are not encouraging this.”

“I am more than encouraging it,” he said, turning his attention to Cupid and me. “I am offering a gift to the couple, if they so choose to remain married after all they have been through.”

My heart gave a start, and I shared a curious glance with Cupid. He raised a shoulder and sounded like an innocent boy in a man’s glorious body as he spoke.

“I want nothing more than to be with Psyche.”

All eyes landed on me. Confusion clouded my head, squeezing, causing me to close my eyes and drop my chin. “I…don’t know. I need time.”

Cupid’s audible intake of air gutted me. He was scared.

Venus made a wrathful sound of disgust. “You reject the love of a god? My son? He could have any woman—”

“Mother, please,” Cupid said.

Jupiter held up a hand. “She has been through much. I daresay she needs a moment.”

I flashed him a quick, obliged rise of my lips that slipped away. “Yes, king of the gods. Thank you for understanding. But I need more than a moment.” I braced myself to be brave. “Would it be possible to return to my isle while I think?”

Jupiter chuckled. “The heart of a queen, this one.”

Cupid’s eyes bore into me, but I dared not look at him lest I make a rash decision. Jupiter snapped his fingers and Zephyr appeared. “Take the girl back to her isle.”