I know it was extreme, but it was the only thing I could think of on the spur of the moment. Hercules had followed me when I'd stormed off, but in my anger and humiliation, I'd mishandled it. I'd been too upset to see my opportunity. I had really loved the man I'd believed to be Hercules. Damn it, I'd even thrown over Pallaeus, the best prospect in Phlegra, for him, and now I was left with nothing. But once I'd had time to calm down and think, and then seen the real Hercules in action, seen the way everyone hung on his every word, I knew I *couldn't* let Hercules walk away from me. He was strong, brave, handsome, famous, powerful - everything I wanted in a
man. I thought fast, and made my decision. There was only one way I could stay in his life, only one way I could work on him till he realised that I was the one for him. So I stepped up in front of everybody, and said it. I said that his brother Iphicles was the love of my life.
I felt bad when I saw the expression in Iphicles' eyes. But he'd lied to me. He'd have continued lying to me if the real Hercules hadn't turned up. What was I supposed to do - forgive him? My step-father was removed from power; as far as I could see I had only one chance at any sort of a future which matched up to what I was used to. So I took it.
Of course I didn't realise then that we wouldn't be seeing much of Hercules. I tried - gods, did I try - to persuade him to come and visit. I encouraged Iphicles to talk to him. But Iphicles just went all moody on me, telling me it was more complicated than I knew, even while he liked the fact that I cared enough to try to mend their relationship.
I had to marry Iphicles in the end. He was too impatient and I couldn't keep putting him off forever. It didn't really matter; I could work on Hercules just as easily whether or not I was married. And Iphicles was a good husband. Really. That made it easier for me to pretend I loved him in return, I suppose. The problem was that he loved me too much. He was looking for someone he could love, someone who would give him a focus for his life. Most of all, he was looking for someone who would love him. I
know it sounds romantic but believe me, when you're the recipient of that much intensity every day and you don't feel the same way, it's too much. And the sex. ok, it was good. Very good. But all the time? Give me a break.
So there I was, about to become Queen of Corinth, and still no closer to Hercules. I wondered about that; if I was going to be Queen in my own right, I didn't need Hercules, did I? But then, at the ceremony, when I saw him fighting that monster. All Iphicles could do was fight the mercenaries and go after the priest, but Hercules went straight for Hera's creature. I knew I had to have him. I had to have him because he was the best.
I decided something would have to change. Next time Hercules visited, I'd force the issue somehow. I was willing to give up my royal status to become Hercules' recognised consort. Royal status? That's a laugh. All it ever got me were clothes, jewels and an army of servants. Iphicles was the only one with any power.
As it happened, things started to change while I was still waiting for Hercules to come and visit. I took a lover before then. I didn't mean to, it wasn't part of my plan. But what could be better than a demigod? You got it - a full-blown god (and by the time I was through with him that was a pretty accurate description). The first time he turned up was in our bedchamber when Iphicles was off for a couple of days doing whatever it was he had to do to ensure his people's safety. That was something else that really began to bug me about him: he took this king stuff so seriously. And every time he had to go off somewhere and leave me he'd be apologetic and loving, and when he came back, he'd be so pleased to see me again, and so damned horny, that I began to dread it. I guess by the time I got involved with the god my feelings for Iphicles had changed from vague fondness to animosity because of the way he was holding me back. I was careful to disguise my emotions, though. Queen was better than nothing. I just needed
to find a way to get more.
I lay naked on the bed in the afternoon heat, the warm breeze from the window playing over my skin, imitating the movement of my hands caressing my body. My fingers moved between my parted legs, feeling the dampness there when I imagined Hercules pushing his hard demigod cock into me, telling me he loved and wanted to marry me and be with me forever. Visions of our public declaration of love for one another danced through my head as I began to stroke myself, a moan escaping me as my fingers moved over sensitised flesh.
"Rena." A hot breath of sound against my cheek.
My hand dropped immediately and I sat bolt upright on the bed.
"Who's there?" My best queenly commanding accents as my eyes quartered the heavy tapestries lining the chamber walls, searching for a movement behind any of them. The door to the bathing room was firmly closed. No one, but *no one*, would dare disturb the Queen once she'd retired to her bedchamber.
A dark figure moved forwards, seemingly from nowhere. He leaned a leather-clad knee on the bed as he planted a strong arm either side of me, pushing me back against the bed with his large muscular body. Panicking, I tried to shove him off me. He laughed a little, and pushed me fully backwards, a hand across my mouth as he moved so that his legs were astride me. I could feel his arousal pressing against me.
"Who were you thinking of?" His voice was low, and there was a light in his dark eyes which I didn't understand. "Not your beloved husband, I know that."
I made a noise of protest against his palm and tried to fight him off me. I didn't know who this maniac was, but I was the Queen, damn it, not some maid to be taken by any passing courtier who fancied. His weight shifted so that I lay trapped motionless beneath him.
"Oh yes, I've seen you," he was telling me. "I've seen the look on your face as Iphicles kills himself not to come until you do, does everything he knows how to please you. But it's not enough for you, is it? You want more." His voice trailed off as I stared up at him.
Then I realised my silence would be an admission of guilt. Until I had Hercules, I couldn't let go of Iphicles. I shook my head emphatically, eyes rolling indignantly to refute his accusation. I was desperately trying to work out who this stranger could be, and if he could really have seen me and Iphicles fucking. I'd never seen him before, I knew that. Whoever he was, he was beautiful. The impression I'd gained of his body was one of muscled perfection, and his face was darkly sensual, with deep eyes holding promises of carnal pleasure beyond belief.
He removed his hand, replacing it with his mouth. I twisted my head away, trying to avoid his lips, but they were locked on mine. His tongue thrust demandingly into my mouth. I should have felt outrage, disgust, at the violation, but with that smooth slippery tongue working against mine, all I felt was sudden shocking arousal. His hardness was pressing against me through his pants. Then he was suddenly naked against me. I was motionless for an instant as I took in what that meant. He must be a god. My hands
tangled frantically in his hair, pulling his head hard against mine, not letting him go, wanting his immortal tongue in my mouth, his body against mine, his godly cock deep inside me.
The bastard chose that moment to pull away from me, letting me know the futility of pitting my strength against his. He pushed up on his hands and knees and just poised there above me, looking down at my face. I looked up at him. Gods, he was beautiful. The sense of power that emanated from him was more effective than any aphrodisiac.
"I want you," I whispered huskily, my hungry eyes letting him know how much. My hands began to move across his chest, flat against the muscle at first, then my fingers started circling his nipples. He stayed there, still, as I slid down the bed beneath him. I sucked a nipple, my tongue working it before I bit him gently. His body jerked in response, encouraging me to push myself further down the bed, reaching up with my
mouth to his beautiful hard cock, standing proud from his body. The angle was killing me, but I'd do anything he wanted, anything that would keep him coming back for more. My tongue flicked him then I raised my head further and took him in my mouth. All the way in, as far as I could. My head worked up and down on him, my tongue moving against him. I sucked, licked, blew, teased, did everything I'd ever learned. Eventually he started to thrust into me, his length nearly choking me as I forced my mouth to relax and take as much of his cock as I could. He pushed harder and harder into my mouth, grunting now as he did so, until he exploded into me and I was desperately swallowing his hot salty cum. I determinedly swallowed every last drop. I always insisted Iphicles pull out before he came - I didn't want to spend the whole of the next day tasting his cum. But a god was different.
I pushed myself back up the bed again and looked at him. He was breathing hard, but he looked me in the eye. He nodded once, as though satisfied about something, and then he was gone. Just like that.
I lay there for a while, wondering, before my hand moved back between my legs and I started to stroke myself again, fantasising about what it would have been like to have that size and hardness deep inside me. I wondered what the Court would think to know their Queen was fucking a god, to have Hercules know that he'd missed his chance, that I was going to go to Olympus and be recognised as the consort of a god. The orgasm that ripped through me had me screaming.
He came to me again the following night. I woke to feel him pulling the silken sheet back from me and curling around me from behind, his erection pressing against me. I pulled away, muttering crossly. "I'm asleep."
His large hand stroked slowly across my body, and his seductive low voice purred into my ear. "I don't think so."
My eyes snapped open and I turned onto my back to see *him* there. The bright moonlight streamed through the window, falling onto his face to show me every detail of his unearthly dark beauty as clearly as though it were daylight. Iphicles and I didn't follow the fashion of having drapes at the window; I don't know why he liked to look at the stars, but I needed to be reminded of the world outside this castle, this marriage. As time had passed and I grew no closer to getting Hercules, I had begun to despair. I
needed to remember that one day there would be something more to my life. And now I had physical proof of that fact, right here in my bed.
I smiled invitingly up at him, mentally cursing the fact that my hair was a mess, my eyes probably still bleary with sleep. The one good thing was that I didn't bother wearing a night-gown.
"I thought you were my husband," I apologised disarmingly.
That look appeared in his eyes again and I didn't understand it. His head bent to my breasts, his beard feeling strange against my soft flesh, and his mouth closed moistly around one nipple. His full lips were soft around it while his tongue flicked hot and wet across my nipple again and again, his fingers mirroring his tongue's action on my other breast. He bit my aching flesh, gently at first, then harder, until I was begging him to stop, or to continue, unable to tell any more whether it was pain or pleasure. He
stopped at last and I moaned in disappointment. But then his hot mouth began to trail over my body and I was moaning for a different reason, consumed by the knowledge that I was about to be fucked by a god. He pressed my legs apart and bent his head to me. I raised my head to look and cried out with unbearable triumph as I saw the god's dark head between my legs. I arched backwards at his warm breath on me, crying out again as his tongue touched me. I writhed frantically, trying to push against him, but
his hands held me firmly still and he established his own rhythm, his tongue working me mercilessly, again and again.
"Gods," I was begging him, "Please."
Next thing I knew, he was gone. I was left there, legs shamelessly wide, hips lifting off the bed, to no one. And worst of all, the bedchamber door was opening, and Iphicles was standing there.
"Rena." The need, desire, and suffocating love which throbbed through his voice left me hating him. But I so badly needed someone to finish what the god had started, anyone would do.
"I want you," I demanded urgently.
He was across the room in an instant and beside me, leaning over me as his warm hand curved around my cheek, his thumb moving slowly across my lips before his mouth lowered to mine and he kissed me as though I was the most precious thing in his life. His tongue slipped sweetly between my lips, and I bit it. He jerked away from me in surprise, but my hands tangled in his hair, pulling his head back down to mine, my tongue thrusting into his mouth while my body arched up from the bed to writhe against him. Catching my urgency, his hands began to move over my body with a growing demand, and I could feel his cock swelling against me. I rubbed against him and felt his
immediate response, his hands desperately searching now, his lips hard on mine as his tongue plunged into my mouth, our teeth grazing in suddenly frantic lust as I reached down his body, pushing his hips momentarily away from me so I could unfasten his pants and release his cock. No foreplay, no loving crap from him this time, I just needed a big hard cock pounding deep inside me, again and again. He groaned as he felt my hands on his hot flesh and he pulled up from me very slightly. I followed him up and sank my teeth into his neck. Hard. And kept biting.
With a growl he was down on me again, yanking away from my teeth as he spread and entered me, fast and furious. I moaned helplessly as I felt his size thrusting inside me. My hands tangled in his hair, pulling hard. The studs on his leather vest hurt against my sensitive breasts but I welcomed the pain. He was thrusting deep and fast as I raked my nails down his muscular arms, digging in as hard as I could to the only bit of bare flesh I could find, closing my eyes and imagining my dark lover as his cock slammed
hard into me. He moved my legs over his shoulders and as he drove even deeper into me, I grabbed his hair again and pulled his head down to mine. His tongue thrust eagerly into my mouth, unknowingly repeating the actions of the god's beautiful immortal cock, and as I thought of that and he slammed deep into me, I came with a speed and intensity that took him by surprise. He cried out and lost control, his seed spilling inside me.
"Fuck," he said, when he got his breath back.
"Don't say anything," I immediately laid my finger against his lips. "Just hold me." I wanted to close my eyes and hold on to the illusion that it had been the god who'd fucked me.
We rearranged ourselves more comfortably and lay in silence for a while. He eventually moved off me to undress. When he rejoined me in the bed he held me close and told me how much he loved me. I told him the same in return of course, told him that when he'd walked in I'd been touching myself because I'd missed him, but I was so very tired now... He didn't suspect a thing.
I have no way of proving it, but I'm sure it was that night I became pregnant. By the time Iphicles was next called away on kingdom business, I knew I was. I hadn't told him; I couldn't face either his joy or his concern, especially as I hadn't decided yet whether or not to get rid of it. I knew of ways to do that. I couldn't see Hercules taking on his brother's pregnant wife. But then, if I had a god as a lover, I didn't need Hercules any more. Maybe if I got it right, the god would think it was his.
I did the dutiful wife bit and saw Iphicles off, then retired immediately to my bedchamber. I knew *he'd* come to me now my husband was gone again. My
attendants thought I was grieving over Iphicles' absence and left me in peace. I'm sure they believed the noises that emerged from the bedchamber were cries of inconsolable loneliness, not of incredulous pleasure as the god took me, again and again, doing everything to me I'd ever dreamed of and some things I'd never even known possible until that day.
Eventually he left me, satiated, exhausted, and happy. He wanted me. He still hadn't told me who he was. He didn't stay after sex, didn't hold me and tell me he loved me, not like Iphicles, but I knew he did. Otherwise why would he keep coming back for more? It was just a matter of time before he declared himself.
Two days passed, and he didn't come back again. But I knew he would. I spent the whole two days in an agony of frustrated physical unfulfilment, but nonetheless triumphant. Iphicles was away for several days; I knew I'd see *him* again before Iphicles returned. I knew I'd satisfied him. I knew he wanted me. He'd be back soon.
I spent as much time as possible in my bedchamber, wearing my most alluring gown, or in the bath, wearing nothing at all. He still didn't come. I had to make appearances for meals and emerge often enough to spend time with various members of the Court who were intent on entertaining me and looking after me in the king's absence. Had I followed my desire and spent the whole time in my bedchamber waiting for him, I knew Iphicles would be told on his return, and I couldn't face his concern and anxiety if he thought I wasn't feeling well.
On the third day I had a late lunch with some of Iphicles' advisers. They never talked to me about anything meaningful, instead they kept the conversation on a domestic level which the untutored queen would be able to understand. It never seemed to occur to any of them that their king was untutored too. As soon as you had a cock, you were accorded instant respect. I tried to continue smiling at them while fantasising over
creative ways to rend them limb from patronising limb. They were vying for my attention, but I wasn't stupid enough to believe that was because they really wanted it. No, it was all power-seeking manoeuvring: by currying favour with me, they might advance in the king's esteem. It was gratifying to reflect that I did have *some* power, but it was trivial when compared to how things would be if I were with a demigod. Or a god... I smiled as I thought of my immortal lover. Now that was a very pleasurable way of gaining exactly what I wanted.
The interminable meal was rudely interrupted by the announcement of a messenger for Queen Rena. The mud-splattered man stumbled in, chest heaving as he used the last of his strength to reach me.
"King Iphicles," he gasped out, falling onto his knees. His shaking arms were propped on the floor in front of him, seemingly the only thing keeping him from total collapse. "Skirmish. Bandits. Hurt."
I was on my feet, chair thrust back, stomach churning wildly.
"Something's happened to the king?" My voice was unrecognisable, shrill with fear. Oh gods, no. Please, no. My heart was filled with dread as I urgently questioned him. "He's not dead?"
"No, majesty," he somehow got out. "Injured."
I sank back down on my chair, suddenly faint. The advisers fussed around me, fanned me, bade me drink some wine. I was trembling. Fuck. What the *fuck* did Iphicles think he was playing at? He was the *king* - he was supposed to send his men in to those sorts of situations. What the fuck had he thought he was doing? If he got himself killed, I was really in trouble.
Anyway, the little drama gave me the perfect excuse to retire shaken to my bedchamber for the afternoon. My solicitous escorts left me lying feebly on the bed, once I'd assured them that I'd be better alone.
My lover didn't show up though. I was left restlessly pacing the bedchamber. It had turned out that Iphicles had been badly injured. He wouldn't be well enough to make the journey back to Corinth for some time, so the messenger had said. His advisers had competently sorted out the administrative arrangements for taking control of things in his absence, all without any reference to me. The only notice they took of me was to
tenderly enquire if I was really all right; it had been such a terrible shock, and the whole Court knew how in love we were. At least no one had the bright idea that the devoted wife should ride to her wounded husband's side. Just as well. I had no intention of spending gods know how long in the back of beyond with a sick Iphicles. I drew a breath of relief at escaping that fate. Then a deeper one as I gave thanks that he hadn't died.
That was when it struck me for the first time. If he was dead, his family would surely comfort his inconsolable widow. Who then better than his brother to help the pretty young widow through those first few faltering steps without her husband?
I banished the thought. I couldn't kill Iphicles. He was a good man. He hadn't done anything wrong, except not be Hercules. Or a god. Or anyone who really mattered. No, I couldn't kill him. But later that night, I dreamed he died. And it was a sweet dream.
I awakened from that dream to *him*. He stood there, in the middle of the bedchamber, naked, the brilliant moonlight warring with the darkness of the chamber over his arrogant figure, a tantalising combination of dark and light. I swallowed as I took in his magnificent glory. My eyes sought his sensual face, mysterious and remote in the shadow, then followed the path of the moon down his powerful chest and lean waist to where his amazing erect cock reared from the dark curls between his legs.
"Who *are* you?" I asked him.
He stepped forward into the full light and his eyes burned on mine. "On your knees," he commanded me.
I got out of the bed and knelt before him, offering my mouth to his immortal cock. Any fancies the moonlight had caused me to have about his ethereal nature vanished as soon as his thickness and warmth filled my mouth, and I tasted him on my tongue. He came quickly, leaving me panting and unsatisfied, staring up at him.
He stood there over me an instant longer, eyes fixed to mine. "I am Ares," he told me. "God of War."
I stayed there kneeling, long after he'd disappeared. My head fell back and I cried my triumph to the uncaring ceiling. This was my salvation.
By the time Iphicles was recovered enough from his injury to return to the city, I'd decided to keep the child. At least telling him of my condition meant that I could refuse to have sex with him. How could I want him, a mortal, when I could have a god? Ares came to me now even when Iphicles was in the castle, fucking me long and hard on our marriage bed as my husband dispensed judgement from his Throneroom or planned the future of the kingdom from the Council room. I hadn't raised the subject of the child with Ares. I didn't dare lie outright and tell him it was his, and I didn't want to tell him the truth, just in case he believed otherwise. I didn't know much about Ares apart from what Hercules had told us, but the little I had heard about him indicated that he looked after his children. So if he believed it to be his, I was laughing.
I was some way gone in my pregnancy when Ares finally mentioned it. I'd just finished blowing him, and was lying back on the floor beside him, my arm reaching out across his body, my head nestling onto his chest. He pushed me off him and got to his feet. I lay there staring up at him in surprise. He never let me touch him except when we were fucking, but this time had been so intense, I'd thought he would allow me a natural-seeming reaction. It seemed not.
He looked down at me. After all this time, I still couldn't tell what he was thinking.
"You're carrying the heir to Corinth," he said without preamble. "Don't let anything happen to him."
He disappeared before I could reply, leaving my mind whirling. That must mean that Ares believed the child to be his. He'd never be interested in a mortal child. I got slowly to my feet and went to the bathing room to wash myself. I knew Iphicles would come to check on me soon, and I couldn't risk him seeing the evidence of our fucking. My smile grew as I dried myself off, wrapped the bath sheet around myself and walked back into the bedchamber. Ares believed I was carrying his child. His *son*, if what he'd said was true.
Ares didn't come back to me again the rest of the time I was carrying the child. Once I'd got over the disappointment, I realised why. He didn't want to risk harming the child by having sex with me. Knowing that, I could bear his absence. I knew he'd be back as soon as I was delivered of it.
I think that was the only thing that got me through the pain of giving birth. I kept thinking of Ares, and what this child would mean for me. Iphicles came to me, of course, as soon as the midwives let him, kissing me, holding his son with a look of wonder. Gods, I'd been carrying the thing for so long, what was so bloody wonderful about it? Whatever. It kept him happy. For an instant, as I saw that expression on his face, in his eyes, I remembered why I'd felt what I did for him back in Phlegra, at the very beginning. But then I thought of my future; I didn't want to end up like my mother, a broodmare producing brat after brat until she died of exhaustion. No, I had to secure my future somehow. Iphicles couldn't give me what I needed. He wasn't a god, or even a demigod. He was just another man who might be overthrown or killed at any time, which would leave me alone and defenceless. Ares was my way out of all that. Ares was my future.
The birth of our son was the signal for the family to come running. Alcmene was there almost constantly, and after I got over the initial annoyance, it was nice to have the attention. I was the mother of her only living grandchild, and she couldn't do enough for me. Then Hercules turned up. After all the congratulatory backslapping, he asked to hold the child. I passed him over, watching the expressions flickering over Hercules' face: delight in a new life, happiness for me and Iphicles, tempered by a deep sorrow. I put a comforting hand to his arm and he looked at me, attempting a smile. I reached up and kissed his cheek gently, letting him know I understood, before walking away to give him some space.
I thought I'd handled that rather well. I had to play the devoted wife and mother card this time around; Hercules would never run off with the new mother, unless I could convince him of brutality on Iphicles' part. And let's face it, with the cooing and coddling that went on. well, Hercules would have had to be a simpleton to believe anything of the sort. So I was the perfect wife and mother. That would of course give credence to my inconsolability should anything happen to Iphicles. It didn't stop me persuading Hercules of my warm feelings for him, my natural empathy with him. By the end of his visit, we had established a close and friendly relationship. I was pleased. I had to cover all bets. Particularly as Ares hadn't yet shown up.
I was lying on my bed "resting". The child was with its nurse. Iphicles was doing whatever it was he did all day, having promised he'd join me for a private supper tonight now the visitors were finally gone. Oh joy. I was bored. I was impatient. I was going crazy. I might have made headway with Hercules, but I wasn't really any closer to being with him. And Ares. I allowed my thoughts to dwell on him, rather than shying away as they had recently begun to. Weeks had passed and he hadn't come to see the child he believed to be his. I'd seen nothing of him since that last time.
As though my thoughts had called him to me, I was suddenly aware of his dark presence beside me on the bed. He lay there, propped on his side, silently watching me.
"Ares," I welcomed him with my most enticing smile, one hand slipping immediately to his warm chest, working its way under his leather vest. His eyes were dark on mine, their depths unfathomable, and then he closed them. He rolled onto his back and let me open his vest and move my mouth over his chest, flicking my tongue against his nipples, before I moved lower, across his stomach until my hands were working at the fastening to his pants. He didn't move, he didn't say anything, just lay there while I opened his pants and freed his cock from where it was pushing against its confines. I rubbed my cheek against it, kissed it, touched it, stroked it, played with it, unwilling to let go, to stop looking at it and worshipping it with my hands. It had been too long. I had begun to believe he'd forgotten me. I was going to make sure he never forgot this.
As I finally went to pull his pants further down he dispensed with them altogether. I knelt between his legs, my tongue trailing up the sensitive skin of his inner thighs, moving from one to the other until I reached his balls. I licked, sucked, teased, again and again, wrapping my mouth around them, until his hips began to lift under my determined attentions. At that point I raised my head and very deliberately ran my tongue all the way up the length of his cock. A sound escaped him. Pausing at the tip, I ran my tongue lightly around the beautiful head, dipping into the leaking slit, before I took him in my mouth and pushed slowly down. Not too far, just enough to promise. I drew back again, licked and teased some more, before lightly moving my cheek across the glistening tip, feeling his moisture on my face. Oh gods, at this rate I was going to come myself before I brought him off. I teased him again, my mouth starting to move down on him, but then drawing back, doing it over and over again until he refused to take any more and his hands on my head forced me all the way down on him.
I took as much of his length in as I could, skimming him with my tongue and my teeth, one hand cupping his balls and lightly stroking. My head worked up and down on him as my hand reached past his balls and stroked his tender skin, one finger seeking his tight entrance. I knew what drove Iphicles wild. From the way Ares stiffened and then groaned, it wasn't just Iphicles. He thrust into my mouth, breathing fast. I added another finger to the first and pushed my head up against his hands to move my tongue up and down his hot shaft, teasing the tip, licking off the liquid which was seeping from it. Then as I slid my fingers deeper inside him I pushed my mouth down on him again, setting up a rhythm with my hand and my mouth that I knew he'd not be able to resist. Sure enough, it wasn't long before his hands were jamming my head down on him and his seed was shooting down my throat as he groaned his release.
When he was finished I raised my head and smiled in satisfaction at him, licking cum from my lips. "Ares," I put all the meaning I could into that one word before crawling up the bed to lie down beside him. I was gratified to see that he was flushed and breathing hard. He said nothing.
After a while, when his breathing returned to normal, he turned his head and looked at me. I wasn't sure what to say; if I told him I'd missed him, he might back off. I waited for him to speak first.
"So what went wrong with Hercules?" he jibed without warning. "Or are you after bigger game now?"
I stared at him, allowing my hurt to show in my face once I'd got over the first shock. Fuck. How the fuck could he know?
"I don't know what you mean," I covered, innocent, confused and injured by his implication. "I love being with *you*, Ares. Hercules is just my husband's brother. I know you two don't exactly get on, but I have to be polite to him." I suddenly saw my chance and seized it with both hands. "As long as I'm his family, that is," I added artlessly. I looked him in the eye. "But I'd rather be with you."
"And your husband?"
There was a tone in his voice I didn't understand, but I knew this was the deciding moment in our relationship.
"I love *you*, Ares," I told him. "Not Iphicles. I'd leave him in an instant if you asked me to."
He grunted, then without further ado, rolled on top of me, thinking away my clothes as he did so, and fucked me within an inch of my life.
I lay there for a long time after he'd gone, barely able to move. It was only the thought of Iphicles' imminent arrival which finally got me off the bed to the bathing room. Shit. He'd held nothing back that time. I could feel the triumph burning deep inside me, even as I carefully moved the damp cloth across tender skin that I knew would show bruises tomorrow. I'd done it. He was going to come back for me, to be with me. Just before he'd left, he'd told me. "He'll be called away tomorrow. Wait for me here." It was the first time he'd ever told me he'd come back. Oh yes, it was all going to come together beautifully.
That evening, I found myself feeling warmer towards Iphicles than I had for a long time. Now I knew that it was going to happen, I could be generous to him. I sat opposite him as we ate in our private chambers, noticing lines of strain around his mouth and tiredness in his face. Neither were usual for him. I wondered what was going on in the kingdom. He glanced up from pushing food aimlessly around his plate to meet my gaze. I suddenly noticed that his lips were as full as Ares' own.
"Is everything all right, Iphicles?" I asked him. "You look tired."
He sighed. "I'm sorry, Rena," he began, the tense line between his eyes deepening. "I've got to leave you again tomorrow. It won't be for long, I promise."
I concentrated on my plate for an instant, so he wouldn't see the flare of excitement in my eyes. It really was going to happen. Ares really had set it up. Iphicles mistook the reason for my silence and avoidance of his gaze.
"I'm sorry, Rena," he repeated.
I looked across at him, meeting his earnest dark eyes. They contained only trust and love as he looked at me. I suddenly felt bad about the fact that when he came back, I wouldn't be here. I got to my feet, walked round the table to him, and kneeling beside him, laid my head in his lap.
"I'll miss you, Iphicles," I told him.
His hand dropped to my head, stroking my hair. "I don't want to leave you," he said quietly.
I rubbed my cheek against his hard thigh, feeling the tension in his muscles. Whatever it was he was going to do tomorrow, I could tell he was upset about it. I began to realise that a part of me really would miss him.
Some time later, I persuaded him to bed. I needed him to fuck me hard, to explain away the bruises Ares had left, so I tried one or two of the tricks Ares had taught me. They worked. Shit, did they work. I could now explain Ares' bruises, but I reckoned I'd have another whole new set competing with them.
I awoke the next morning to Iphicles dropping a kiss onto my forehead. My eyes blinked open to find the early light of dawn groping through the window. Iphicles was standing next to the bed, fully dressed. There was just enough light for me to make out his smile down at me. "Sorry I woke you."
I bit back my instant angry retort about why had he kissed me then, and smiled back. "Good luck," I told him.
His smile disappeared as he squared his shoulders to face whatever disagreeable task it was awaiting him, turning away to the door.
"Iphicles," I called him back to the bed.
He came and stood looking down at me. I looked back at him, remembering. He'd been good to me. By the time he came back, I'd no longer be here. "I love you," I told him.
He bent down and kissed me briefly, then hid his face in my neck. "Rena," he whispered. "I love you so much."
We held each other for a moment, before he pulled away and walked to the door. Pausing there, he gave me one last glance and a smile that promised for his return, and I was alone. Or was I? A dark figure lounged forwards from the shadows.
"Impressive," he commented. "Quite the little actress, aren't you?"
I glared at him for an instant, before I remembered and smiled instead.
He affected surprise. "You're not going to tell me that touching little scene was for real, are you?"
My smile grew a little more rigid.
He sat down on the bed. "Come on Rena," he confronted. "You hate him. You told me that."
I looked into those dark eyes and saw an intense fire burning so deep inside him that it left me dizzy. I glanced away, trying to steady myself.
"I don't hate him," I told him.
"But you're going to leave him."
I nodded. "Yes. He was useful. That's over."
And then it hit me what he'd said. It was really true: he was really and truly going to take me away with him.
As I looked up at him, his finger touched my lips, silencing me. "I'll be back later," he promised. "When he's gone."
He came back later. I'd pleaded a headache and was resting on my bed in the afternoon heat. It had occurred to me that Ares might want to see the child, might want the boy to come with us. I'd hesitated, then decided to leave him with his nurse. If necessary, I'd go and collect him.
When Ares arrived, his gaze moved appreciatively over the green silk dress I'd chosen to wear on the day of my triumph. It draped suggestively, but concealed more than it revealed. He wasn't getting this on a plate. Anyway, I had to cover the burgeoning bruises. Despite the direction of his eyes, he seemed more inclined to talk than fuck. That was a first.
He sat down on the bed beside me, one hand idly running through my loose hair, fanned fetchingly around me on the pillow.
"You know, mortals think that gods only kill by throwing thunderbolts," he said, apropos of nothing. "Such a messy way to do it. There are so many more subtle ways that look like accidents. No one ever guesses."
I made an noise of polite interest. I'd do whatever it took to keep him happy, even if it meant listening to irrelevant discourses on the behaviour of gods.
"Hera had the right idea with those serpents," he continued conversationally. "It happens all the time you know. Just her bad luck that dear little brother managed to do something about it. But *you* don't have any demigod powers, do you Rena?"
He looked down into my eyes. It took me a moment, but then, with a sudden sickening horror, I knew.
"*No*!" I jerked upright, pushing him away, throwing myself across the bed away from him. Inhuman strength pulled me back and pinned me down on my back, and then a billowing whiteness was filling my vision, covering my mouth, my nose. I couldn't breathe. I tried to scream, but the feathers of the pillow silenced it.
I fought him desperately, my hips arching, my hands pushing at the pillow, then striking out blindly, nails raking where they hit flesh, but it was no good. I had no chance against his strength. My chest heaved in my futile attempts to get air. Every breath I tried to draw weakened me. The feathers were choking me, the soft whiteness was everywhere. I couldn't breathe. After a while, I stopped trying. I was floating peacefully. With a final jolt I realised that no one would know. No one would ever know that I, Rena, had been Ares' lover.
'You were never my lover.' I was still floating, but no longer alone or peaceful. Words and images filled my head. I saw my own funeral. The Court in deep mourning, the nurse holding the child who was chuckling unconcernedly. No Hercules, damn him. Iphicles standing there, stricken, and so alone. That was when I saw the dark figure behind him. Not touching him, not letting him know he was there yet, just standing patiently biding his time. And I realised. With a bitterness so sour that I could taste it, I realised. This had never been about me. All of this, all along, had been about Iphicles.
So why? If it was Iphicles he wanted, why had he come to me instead of simply killing me? His words in my head led me to the truth I didn't want to hear. He'd done it to punish me. To make me want somebody who didn't give a toss about me, just like I'd done to Iphicles. Bastard. I hated him. There was the suggestion of an amused chuckle in my head. He liked that. He likes to be hated. But I didn't understand why he'd waited so long before doing it. He made that agonisingly clear too. It was because of the child. The succession. It was a shame there was only one child, but he wasn't prepared to wait any longer. And he'd carried on fucking me while I was pregnant to distract me from my tempting thoughts of becoming a widow. It made perfect, horrible sense now I saw it.
Scenes shifted, changed, and Ares showed me something else that was going to happen. Him and Iphicles. I saw him fucking my husband and then holding him afterwards, the way he never held me. He showed me the way Iphicles looks at him. I think Iphicles used to look at me like that, but I'm not sure. I never really paid much attention.
'Goodbye Rena.' Ares was leaving me. He knew he'd won. We both knew he'd won. But strangely enough, as everything faded to black, I thought that somehow Iphicles had won too.