Perhaps you picked up your copy of Lesser Gods Looking for Love yesterday when it first became available to the world. In that case, you’re way ahead of the game because you’ve probably already read this. However, if you hesitated to get your copy yesterday because you weren’t sure if this was the book for you, we’ve got you covered. Now you can read the opening chapter of the first of three novellas included in this book right here, right now. For free.
WHEN DEMIGODS COURT DEATH
Chandra stepped outside, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Her neighbor’s balcony was in bloom with so much flora that it was difficult to pick out individual scents. Sweet as honey. Sharp as an exotic bloom. Rich as a rose. And green. She’d never realized how crisp and earthy verdant green foliage smelled. It all mingled together in a fragrant bouquet that seemed more typical of a greenhouse than an apartment balcony in downtown Seattle. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced.
Possibly because nothing grew like that for her. Ever.
It was a good day when Chandra managed not to kill anything… or anyone.
Every time she went to Urgent Care to see someone about this persistent fatigue, all hell erupted. People clutching their heads or hearts. Coughing up blood for crying out loud. And that was before she even got checked in. So she left. Every time. Chandra was the opposite of a lucky rabbit’s foot for those in poor health.
At least she seemed to be doing better lately. It’d been over two weeks since she’d Googled her symptoms and come up with everything from iron deficiency to the plague. She might not die.
The sliding glass door of the apartment beside her swooshed open and closed behind her neighbor. The air was heavy with humidity though not particularly warm, but Chandra swore steam rose from her skin whenever she saw him. Her whole body flushed with heat—heat that pooled deep inside her and made her mouth dry. She’d never had this significant a reaction to anyone. She wanted to press herself up against him and lick his skin.
Chandra swallowed and chewed on her lip. She certainly was wide-awake and lively now. Maybe her libido had just been in a decline and it wasn’t that she had chronic fatigue syndrome or the bubonic plague.
When he turned his head toward Chandra, her neighbor didn’t look surprised to see her. A slow smile started in one corner of his mouth and spread to the other, pinching the ends of his green eyes. “Hello.”
“Hey,” she said, straightening up. Their small, railed balconies were only five feet apart, but a veritable forest sat between. She nodded at his plants. “How is it you manage to have everything look like you’re a gardener in your spare time?”
He motioned with his chin at the cloudy sky. “It is Seattle. It’s been raining every day all week.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but that hasn’t helped me. I swear, everything I touch… dies.”
She squinted. “What?”
“I know what you mean. Some people aren’t as good with plants.”
Chandra snorted at that understatement. “I’ve killed everything. I’ve had betas, frogs,” she ticked them off on her fingers, “guinea pigs, turtles… a snake. It’s like they give up their will to live. I finally got a tarantula thinking that if it died, it might not bother me as much. It lasted a whole three weeks before it somehow pulled a Houdini and escaped my house of death. And it was looking sickly near the end. I’ve been afraid to move on to larger mammals like cats or dogs for fear of feeling like a murderer.” Hell, she was lonely, but not lonely enough to kill off small animals.
He tilted his head. “What are you having for dinner?”
Raising her eyebrows, Chandra asked, “How did you get ‘dinner’ from a discussion about murdering small animals? If the topic of dogs and cats makes you hungry…”
He laughed—a throaty sound that made her shiver slightly. “No. I ordered Thai food and it should be here in a few minutes. I was going to invite you over to my balcony to share it.”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“Yes, but you know where I live—isn’t that more significant?” He flashed her another grin. “It’s Aster. Aster Slone, and I don’t bite.”
Chewing her lip, she said, “I might not like Thai food.” This aggressive friendliness disarmed her and attacked her social walls, something she wasn’t used to anyone trying.
“So the Pad Thai delivered to my door by mistake last week was you paying good money for food you despise?” Aster glanced toward his door. “Uhh, someone knocked on the door.” He inhaled. “I think I can smell extra peanut sauce.” He pointed at her. “Okay, wait here.”
“I’m going to pay for the food and then come out and eat it in front of you.”
Grinning, she capitulated. “Fine. I’ll come have dinner with you. My name is Chandra. Chandra Linton.”
“I know. Last week’s delivery guy got two tips that night.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure I like devious men.”
“Of course you don’t. So, come over to my place and tell me about it.” He disappeared inside. It was a nice exit line.
Shrugging, she grabbed her keys and a couple of bottles from her fridge on her way out. At least she could bring the drinks.
He was waiting, holding the door open.
She glanced around her as they passed through his place. Inside his apartment was as green as outside—either through décor or houseplants. He’d decorated in bamboo and a deep jungle jade that suggested she’d stepped into a rainforest. It made her minimalist black and brown next door exude dreariness. Even her walls were gray. Bland. Boring. Dying. “What do you do for a living?” Maybe he was a gardener.
“I’m a doctor… a fertility specialist.”
“Huh.” From his sly grin as she passed him to go outside, Chandra knew he’d purposefully lingered in the doorway so that their bodies brushed. It sent a shiver dancing across her skin.
Aster followed her outside, shutting the door, walling them into the lush surroundings within its confined space. He had a tiny round table, barely larger than a pizza stone, with two wrought-iron chairs. Her porch looked roomy in comparison. Roomy and desolate. She had two reclining loungers but that’s it. This was like a tropical paradise, right in the middle of Seattle. Of course they’d be rubbing knees the entire time they were eating.
“Most women have an opinion about me being a doctor for women,” he said, grinning, and holding out a chair for her. “Let alone a fertility doctor.”
“I suppose it is unusual—seeing as you’re single.” She paused in the act of scooting in her chair and looked up at him. “You are single, right?”
He raised his eyebrows. “I am.” Sitting down across from her, he slid in so their knees were, indeed, touching and set the bags of Thai food between them.
“I work from home… mostly,” she volunteered. “Website design. I used to work for a bigger business, but their building had that sick building syndrome or mold or something. We all kept getting sick. They repeatedly cleaned the building, and I hear it’s better now, but I just freelance.” Reaching out, she touched a nearby leaf as he pulled out boxes. “This feels…”
“Magical?” he asked when she struggled for a description.
“Yes.” It really did. “Are you magical?”
“Of course. You should see what I can do with my hands.” Aster smirked, but then split his chopsticks apart. “Super-human strength. Would you like me to break yours too?”
Taking the package from him, she shook her head. “Somehow, I think I can manage.”
“So, you’re not sick anymore? Now that you’re not working there?”
Chandra pursed her lips. “Lately, I’ve been better. I think it just took some time away from there. I never bought into stuff like that: black mold, sick buildings, and so on, but everybody kept getting sick. My section was especially bad.” She rubbed her chopsticks against each other to remove the slivers. “But, don’t worry, I’m not contagious or anything. At least, I don’t think so. Besides, like I said, I’ve been feeling fine lately. Great, in fact.”
“I heard about your building, I think. Stewart tower? On Fourth?”
Nodding, she craned her head to see the contents as he opened boxes. “Yeah, I didn’t realize it’d made the news. I guess replacing all the ductwork in three floors is kind of a big deal. And the carpeting. Oh, plus repainting the walls.”
“I have an interest in medical anomalies so I heard about it. You didn’t find it strange that it was just three floors out of twenty?”
She dished herself some of the yellow curry and Pad Thai. “I suppose. I guess you’d know more about it than me. I swear the world is getting sicker. Super bugs and antibiotic resistance. The previous owner of this apartment was fine until the last flu season. He wasn’t that old—in his fifties. He moved to Arizona for his lungs. He just emailed me and suggested I move down there with him.”
“You really shouldn’t.”
She’d started to eat, but paused with her chopsticks halfway to her mouth. “Why?”
“He sounds far too old for you, and that’s a little pushy, don’t you think?”
Chandra rolled her eyes. “And you’d know nothing about that.”
He winked at her. “Nothing.” Aster gestured around him, his green eyes sparkling. “Tell me, where in Arizona are you going to find someplace like this? Besides, you’re feeling better.”
“I am,” she agreed. Plus, her far-too-pushy and just-the-right-age neighbor was becoming more appealing by the second. “Besides, if I do get sick again, at least I’ll have a doctor next door.”
“Exactly, and even though I prefer to focus on different parts of you—I’m sure I can handle listening to your lungs or whatever else you’d like me to check out.”
She laughed. His flirting was so obvious. It was refreshing.
He unscrewed the top off his bottle, leaned forward, and tapped it against hers. “To playing doctor.”
The bottles chinked as she shook her head at his audacity. “You are trouble, Aster.”
“I am. And I need you to save me, sweet Chandra.”
Sometimes, he was a lucky bastard. Finding Chandra was one of those times. Impossible to believe that hours upon hours of research, hunting through dry statistics about clusters of sicknesses, and keyword searches on social media had led him to the beautiful woman across from him whose corkscrew brown hair made him want to bury his fingers in it. Her coppery skin was due to a mixed ethnicity rather than the sun, and he wanted to touch it, warm it with his hands like the ever-hiding Seattle sun. It’d be soft as velvet—that he knew.
Holding off this long before approaching her had been torture. A month ago, he’d narrowed his search down to the woman in front of him. Finding out the apartment beside Chandra was vacant was a godsend—though not a surprise. If she wasn’t living on the end of the building, the apartments on either side of her would most likely be perpetually empty from here on out. Her skin had been greyish and Chandra’s face slightly gaunt when he’d first moved in next door. Now, she was healthier and his neighbor had a bounce in her step when she walked. He’d taken time off work to “move” but, really, he’d wanted to spend more time with just a thin wall between them to confirm what he’d already suspected: he’d met his match. Now, he needed to convince her that living side by side was good for both of them, but living together would be even better.
Being with her was heaven. Her powers unconsciously soothed his. The white-hot energy that had been flaring painfully the last few years was dampened by the press of hers on it. She was a slushy drink in the flaming desert of a fertility demigod’s existence. Death had never looked so good, and she had no idea. Also, Chandra probably wouldn’t take it well that she’d been making everyone around her sick and might have even killed those who were already unwell. It was tempting not to tell her. On the other hand, he’d kept this secret from most everyone for over two decades, and being able to share this rather singular aspect of his life was something he’d been looking forward to. Sometimes, Aster called his cousin just to vent, but it wasn’t the same.
Besides, once she understood her heritage and saw his place in her life, she’d be better off. At least, that was the supposition he was working on. All his energy had been so focused on finding her that now that he was here, and she was the right age and single, it was hard to switch gears and slow down.
“What?” she asked.
“What?” he repeated, raising his eyebrows.
“You were staring at me. Do I have something on my teeth?” She ran her tongue across the front of her teeth, making his breath hitch.
Slow down. Slow down. It’d become this constant rhythm in his head. “No. You’re just beautiful. It’s hard not to stare.”
She rolled her eyes. “So, you’re a player.”
“I’m not.” Okay, his excitement had given his courtship an intensity she probably wasn’t accustomed to. Additionally, her undercurrent of a subduing hum might put off other guys. There was almost a depression in the elements around her—a humidity that was more magic than atmospheric. Compared to the heightened electricity he was accustomed to—the energy that drew in people whether he wanted it or not—it was relaxing. Or it should have been. His awareness of her as a sexual being was countering that to some degree. He’d been in “look but don’t touch” mode since puberty as he didn’t want to repopulate the earth single-handedly. His work drew some of his extra energy from him. Clients benefited from his fertility powers, without his actual contribution. People joked that there was something in the water at the clinic he worked at due to their high success rates. No, there was something in the air—and if he hadn’t found Chandra, his powers would have become painful to possess, eventually killing him.
Thankfully, he’d found Chandra—who was looking at him suspiciously.
“I actually haven’t dated anyone since med school,” he said.
“Just hook-ups?” She pushed her food around with chopsticks.
“No hook-ups. No time.”
She narrowed her eyes. “So, you’ve been celibate and dateless for…?”
“Five years, three months, and six days… approximately.” For a fertility demigod to be celibate for that long was unheard of. To say he was sexually repressed and frustrated was an understatement.
She sniffed and shook her head. “Right. And I’m a fairy godmother.”
“More of a demigod.” The demigod of death to be precise.
Smiling, she shook her head again. “You’re a charming liar at the very least.”
“I’m not a liar.”
She tilted her head. “Are you gay?”
In answer, he leaned forward and kissed her. Her surprised gasp provided the opportunity for him to deepen the kiss. Curling his palm around the nape of her neck, he brushed his tongue across hers. The frenetic tingles pelting his whole body that had plagued him for a decade now felt as if silk had settled across them in a cool caress. Peace. Certain parts of his body might beg to differ on the definition of peace, but they approved at the very least.
Chandra moaned and leaned into the kiss. Her chopsticks clattered onto the table as she reached up to cradle his face with her hands. She opened her mouth wider and their spicy breath mingled as her tongue tangled with his. Her tentative exploration grew bolder and his heartbeat increased. She was getting a taste of the heightened energy he exuded. What had grown painful for him was probably arousing to her. He wanted to ask what it felt like—if it was good for her, but there’d be time for that later—there’d be time for a lot of things.
His pulse pounding, he leaned back. Slow. Down. He couldn’t scare her. Couldn’t allow this to send her running. His fingers, twined in her thick hair, lingered as he withdrew them. So hard to quit, but it was just for now.
Chandra’s closed eyes fluttered open, and she looked at him with something akin to wonder.
“Does that settle the subject of whether I’m attracted to you?”
As dark as her skin was, it flushed pink, and she dropped her hands, pulling back. Damn, he’d waited too long to stop. Gone too fast. Something. Her gaze fell to her half-empty plate. “Uhh. I, uhh, I’m not normally…”
“Maybe you are…”
Chandra’s mouth pursed and she looked up with a scolding frown.
“What? You were going to say that you don’t normally move so fast or do this sort of thing. I know that. You were about to suggest again that I’m a player, and I’m not.” Aster held out his hands.
Flustered, Chandra looked through the many plants on his back porch over the city. “I don’t… I don’t want… this.” She stood up abruptly. “I’m sorry. This isn’t like me and feeding me isn’t an invitation to…”
He grabbed her hand. Damn. “I didn’t mean it that way.” Hell, too soon. Too overwhelming for a demigod of death. She was used to more suppressed energy. This was too intense to trust.
Staring at his hand on hers, Chandra swallowed.
“I’ll behave,” he promised. “We’ll just talk.”
“Then I go back to my apartment and you stay in yours?”
He held up his free hand. “I swear.” For now. For today.
She sat back down, sliding her hand from his. “Okay.”
“You should at least stay long enough to see the sunset.”
She picked up her chopsticks. “Because it’s that much different from ten feet to the left?”
“It really is. You’ll want to come over every night to see it from here.”
She pursed her mouth, but didn’t deny it.
Progress. Courting Death was quite the process. But at least they both knew they were compatible. Lit matches were less incendiary. After a few more “dates,” maybe he’d find an opening for explaining Chandra needed him so she wouldn’t kill everyone around her. It was bound to be a bit of a downer of a conversation. Maybe a fourth date conversation.
If you enjoyed that, be sure and pick up your copy of Lesser Gods Looking for Love right now!
For a limited time only you can pick up your copy for only $0.99 but prices are going up again in just a few days!
Get it now!