“How perfect,” Miracle said, squeezing my hands and drawing me in for another hug. “I am so glad to see you are happy. Our children will grow up together! As it should be.”
“Married to a god,” Dawn said. “Carrying a demigod in your womb. Yes, how wonderful for you, Psyche.”
Miracle and I both turned toward her harsh voice. The look of envy Dawn gave me soured my stomach and I wondered if I might be sick again. I had spent the whole day so far feeling ill and was only now able to eat.
“Dawn,” Miracle warned. “Psyche has been through much. None of it was her choice. You would do well to show some care.” But Dawn continued to stare at me.
“Born beautiful. Married to an immortal. All the while the people were worried and feeling sorry for you. Mother was barely able to leave her bed, while you were whoring with—”
“That is enough!” I stood shaking, peering down at her. “It was one thing to deal with insults from Venus, who did not know me. But you have known me all my life, Sister. If you do not see my true heart by now, you never will!”
She stood, as well. “If you go back to him, you are a fool! You are nothing but his plaything! A poppet he will bore of and discard the moment you begin to grow old. And you will grow old, Psyche. Your body will stoop and wrinkle, just like the rest of us! Your beauty will not last forever!”
I gaped at her angry, red face.
But before I could say a word, the windows blasted open and a wind swirled like a funnel, billowing our dresses and raising our hair from our heads. The small cyclone circled Dawn, making her scream and grasp her gown. The overwhelming presence of my husband filled my mind and heart, caressing my skin from toe to scalp. As quickly as he had come, his presence was gone, leaving my sisters panting and clutching their chests, and leaving me with a deep longing before I returned to my senses.
Was Cupid spying on me? The fiend! Why should I be surprised after learning he had haunted this castle my entire year of courtship? Like everything he did, I was partially flattered, and partially maddened.
Dawn pointed a trembling finger at me. “You are cursed!” Then she ran from the room. Her judgment dug into my chest as sharp as a dagger. My own sister.
I reached for the chair and sat heavily, my head reeling. Miracle fell to her knees before me, taking my hands and kissing my fingers. In her eyes I saw true understanding.
“Do not hear her words, spoken in jealousy.” She smiled up at me. “You are not cursed, little sister. You are deserved. You are blessed.”
I needed out of the castle. I needed to walk. Boldar followed me, without question, as I donned the hooded shawl and plain sandals. It was market day, and I longed to lose myself in a throng of people, their voices and clacking carts drowning out the sounds of my own thoughts.
First, I walked to the corner where the pig farmer kept his stall. I remained out of his sight, but my breathing became heavy as I stared at the man Cupid had chosen to make me fall in love with. Ghastly. How close I had come to being his wife. It sickened me. I peered up at the nearby stall’s roof where he had most likely perched, drawing his bow, accidentally striking his own self.
A smile crept onto my face just before a sense of awareness had me sucking in a breath. I turned quickly to see Leodes standing there across the way, leaning against a battered stall wall, his arms crossed, sexier than any human form deserved to be. I glanced over at Boldar, who stared hard in the opposite direction.
“Have you enchanted him?” I accused.
Leodes, Cupid, shrugged. “You do not need his watchful eye. I am here.”
I crossed my arms. “You are supposed to be giving me time and space.”
Again, he shrugged, then grinned, sending that familiar curl of need through me. Cupid, the god, was all light and beauty. This version of him was wickedly dark, bringing back those memories of innocent pining. I swallowed and held fast to my shawl.
“I did not want to strike you, Psyche.” He jutted his chin toward the pig farmer. “I was smitten from the moment we spoke.” Leodes pulled something small from his pocket, tossing it in the air and catching it, then holding it between his fingers. My mouth opened at the sight of the tiny wooden mountain lion cub.
“It has become a bit worn,” he said, admiring it. “Not a day goes by that I do not look upon it, rubbing where your fingers touched, remembering your childhood tale.”
I lifted my chin, pretending I wasn’t affected. “You should not be here. Shame on you.” My words were weak in every way. Especially as he strode toward me, the muscles in his legs above his knees flexing with each step. My heart clambered as blood moved quickly under my skin.
He practically pinned me to the wall without ever touching me, his presence overwhelming, his dark eyes boring into mine.
I worked my lips, forcing out the words. “Even if I tell you I don’t want to be with you, you will never leave me. Will you?”
“Never.” His grin was dark and sensual. “But if that is what you choose, I will not show myself again.”
Oh, and what a great pity that would be.
I blinked and stood taller. “And if I take another husband?”
The humor left his features and his eyes hardened, darkening. “I would not show myself.”
But he would be there. He would know, and it would hurt him deeply. He would be jealous. A flush of lust for this man, this god in disguise, danced through me with sultry movements.
“I will give you time, beautiful soul.” His eyes raked me from top to bottom, as if seeing straight through the fabric to my flushed skin beneath. “I will not show myself until you request it.”
Leodes turned, unable to disguise the hope in his eyes. An impishness filled me.
“I want my pets. Mino and Sphinx. They should be here with me.”
His jaw flexed, and he nodded. “It will be done.”
He turned from me and walked from the small alley, causing Boldar to shake his head and scour the alley in confusion. My knees shook, and I pressed my thighs together.
“I am ready to return,” I whispered.
That night, I locked Smokey out of the room. I opened my bedroom window as wide as it could go and climbed between my covers, waiting in the near-darkness.
It didn’t take long.
A breeze gusted through the space, rustling the curtains hanging around my bed, and the solitude of the room took on an intensity. I peered around, seeing nothing, but my heart felt him with perfect clarity.
“Show yourself, Husband.”
“Husband, is it?”
I inhaled quietly at the magnificent sight of him on my window ledge, leaning back against his massive wings. The moon glinted silver off his locks of icy-platinum hair. His eyes shone like the deep lagoon in summer. One knee was up in his short toga, only a shadow hiding what lie beneath, and his chest was bare, muscles tense. Realizing I’d been holding my breath, I let it out with a shudder.
“Yes. Husband. I have not forsaken you. Have you brought my pets?”
He snapped his fingers and Mino and Sphinx appeared on my rug. I clambered to the floor, laughing as I took them in my arms, running my hands over them, dodging kisses on the mouth from the pup, who was nearly at his full height now.
“I am glad to see there is something about my home you miss and intend to keep,” Cupid said.
I stood to face him, and the animals began to explore their new room. “Can you blame me for needing time? Your mother’s account of the events leading up to our marriage were…troublesome to my heart.”
He stood, and once again I found myself holding my breath as he came closer. What a marvel it was to watch the movements of his body, such grace, after being denied the sight during our time together. But his nearness clouded my head. I turned from him and climbed onto the bed, sitting cross-legged in the center.
Cupid came forward and stopped at the edge of the bed, leaning down on his palms, arms rigid, capturing me with those eyes.
“I do not blame you for needing space to think. However, for the first time in my existence, I find myself understanding the drive of humans. The fear that embraces one with the passage of time. Every minute that passes, Psyche, I am filled with an acute awareness of loss, for that minute could have been spent with you.”
My heart seized. I took several cleansing breaths. “Pretty words.”
“I have many such pretty words I have wanted to say but could not.” He began a slow prowl around the end of the bed, never taking his eyes off mine. With every step closer to me, my heart beat faster. I edged away.
“Do you realize how many lives you upended in your goal to keep me from marrying another? All of those men and their families?”
“I gave them love,” he said with a shrug.
“You caused scandal!”
“Because the women were beneath their stations? Psyche…” He clicked his tongue. “Some would say the same for you and me. Such notions are nonsense. Self-important labels humans inflict on their kind to make those in power feel important.”
I sighed and crossed my arms. “You are impossible. I’m not sure I can be with a man who does not take responsibility for his past mistakes.”
Cupid stiffened, rearing back a fraction. Fear shot through me, certain nobody had ever told the god he’d been mistaken in his life. Except his mother, when it came to me.