Redemption: Chapter 1
“Who’s a good boy? Are you a good boy?”
Porkchop’s nervous back and forth dance shook the ground. His little paws pranced and danced as his butt shimmied. For a thousand-pound porcupine monster, he was quite dainty on his feet.
“Is Porkchop a good boy?”
Scooter, jealous of the attention the new kid was getting, bumped in between my legs, his little Beagle tail snapping at my shins with painful stings.
“Hey!” My eyebrows drew together in an angry glare. “You’re going to get bumped off the good boy list if you don’t cut that shit out.”
I’d brought Porkchop home a little over a month ago, and Scooter was having a hard time sharing the attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hell out of my mercury golem. I mean, I stole him from Zeus for cheese-sake. Of course, I loved him, but the passive-aggressive temper tantrums had to stop.
Scooter slumped onto the ground with a hmmph and rolled over for belly scritches. I closed my eyes and heaved a great big sigh. Mercury golems and my nails were not made for each other. Fricken “dog” was nearly indestructible.
“Oh, you think you deserve belly scritches, do you?”
Scooter gave me his most baleful stare, which I ignored. “Good boys get attention. Pouts are ignored.”
I made eye contact with Porkchop and heaved the volleyball I was holding so he could chase it. Yes, I knew he wasn’t a dog, but it’s not like there were rules for playing with a grizzly bear-sized porcupine.
As Porkchop tore after the ball, I leaned down and ran my now-rock-like-fingernails down Scooter’s metallic chest.
“You’re a pain in my ass Scooter McMuffin.”
Porkchop skidded back into view, a slobbery ball between his massive jaws. His butt-spikes were shivering with excitement. With a grin, I stepped over Scooter and planted my hands on my knees.
“What a good boy!”
With a growly huff, Scooter rolled over and started growing and changing his body. I’d gotten used to it by now. I mean, you don’t live with a golem monster for over five years and not see a few hideous changes, you know? However, he did it so quickly that he startled the other monster in my backyard.
A high pitched chitter sounded before Porkchop literally shit and then sent his back spikes sailing.
“Everyone down!” My bellow echoed a little too late. I hit the dirt, my arms covering my head as poisonous, burning iron spikes started flying. Having been the victim of one of his spikes, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I certainly didn’t want it to happen to me again.
He was a good boy, but he still had Nervous Spike Syndrome. Meaning, if he was startled, people were probably going to die.
Porkchop isn’t like your typical North American Porcupine. They have barbs in the tips that “stick” to you. You only get quilled if you roll over on them or get too close. Porkchop shoots spikes from his ass like a ballistic railgun. They ooze poison and burn whatever they puncture.
A high-pitched yelp sounded from Heph’s compound before an angry bellow echoed. Speaking of burning, I’d already had to rebuild Heph’s shed twice in the last month, and dealing with that pissed-off drama queen was the last thing I wanted to do.
“It wasn’t me!”
Was my voice high pitched and shaky? Yes. Yes, it was. But Hephaestus’ anger did things to my nervous system, despite my utter contempt for the man.
“My kitchen, Grace! He’s going to burn down my fucking kitchen! You need to do something about that menace’s ass!”
Porkchop nudged my arms with his nose, making sad, pitiful noises. My translator tech had broken a few weeks ago during some roughhousing. Since I couldn’t read minds, we were back to square one with communication.
“I know you didn’t mean it, buddy. It’s okay.”
I rolled over to see that Scooter had morphed into a twin version of Porkchop. The spikes made sense now. The furrow between my eyebrows was back. “Okay, good. Fine. Good. Maybe you guys can play together now that you’re the same size. Go do that while I deal with the grump-ass next door.”
Porkchop gave Scooter some side-eye and started chattering again. Scooter threw his nose in the air and huffed.
“You two are going to kill me. Now go on. Playtime is over.”
I hauled myself back to my feet and checked for any damage. Like I said, I’d been spiked before. I was checking out my own ass when Hephaestus stormed out of his back door. His massive, muscled chest was bare, and his narrow hips were wrapped in what looked like a sarong.
“Oh, did you get a new dress? It’s so pretty.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and cocked a hip. Better to come off as sarcastic and aggressive than let the man know that my heartbeat just sped up. He may be scarred, but it doesn’t detract from his masculine beauty. Heph is fucking gorgeous.
“This isn’t funny anymore, Grace.” Menace rolled off him in waves I could almost feel.
“Oh?” That’s right, Murphy. Keep your answers short and simple. He can’t draw you into an argument if you don’t participate. (I may have been going to therapy.)
He took a step, and before I knew it, my back hit the rough wood siding of my house. When had I started fleeing?
I wanted to shout at him that my therapist said if I don’t engage, I don’t have to fight.
But Heph didn’t care that I’d been going to therapy. He gave no fucks that I’d been to see a psychologist three times a week since I’d gotten back to town with a comatose god in my head and a monster porcupine as a new pet. We’d made an art form out of avoiding each other since we got back. Point of fact, the only time we interacted was when Porkchop tried to burn down his house.
Heph’s hand, burning orange and yellow, hit the siding beside my head with a hiss and a sizzle. I looked down and nervously licked my lips. What I’d thought was a skirt was a hastily wrapped tablecloth.
“Side note. I like that tablecloth. Where did you pick it up?”
“Are you kidding me right now?”
“How many times do we need to have this conversation, Grace. You shouldn’t have brought that pest back with you! I’m tired of having to rebuild my fucking house!”
I want it noted that I tried to be the bigger woman. I mean, when a half-naked, pissed off god was standing there yelling at me, I tried to keep it light.
But of course, I am who I am, and I did what I always do. I reached the breaking point in my temper and snapped.
“Why do you have to be such an ungodly asshole? You’re blaming me for burning down your house, so what, you’re going to do the same? Guess what, Pal, that’s childish and excessive!”
Anger burned white-hot. How fucking dare he threaten me on my own turf. I wasn’t poor sad Grace Murphy anymore. I had grown up and grown powerful.
I poked him in the chest, and I noticed I was sporting my own flames. But mine were pale blue with crackling electricity. Ooh, shiny.
“What’s childish and excessive is bringing a creature from another planet to Olympus without asking first. What’s childish and excessive is believing you can control that creature without fully knowing what kind of damage—”
Blah blah blah blah blah. That’s all I heard. My ears started ringing as I had two thoughts.
1 – Hephaestus might be physically gorgeous, and my lady parts were hella attracted to him. But, he was a raging asshole who used his size and anger to intimidate me. I didn’t need that in my life. (Again, thank you, therapy.)
2 – I was more powerful than him. I could wrap my arms around Hephaestus and hug him right out of existence.
The recent revelation was more surprising than the latter, of course. I’d always known Heph was an asshole. But he’d been my asshole, so I thought it made a difference. It didn’t. I deserved more than that. I deserved better. I realized then that I didn’t want him anymore. I didn’t need him. I didn’t love him.
With a deep breath, I dropped the power floating dangerously in the palm of my hand and gave him a push. It sent him sliding back a few feet, and the shock on his face was almost worth the angst of what I had to say next.
“You need to stop. Stop popping up half-naked and angry, thinking that you’re going to provoke me into an argument. Hephaestus, I’m not what you want, and honestly, you’re not what I want, either. Let’s just call it good and go about our business. Let me know what I need to replace in your house, and I’ll make sure it gets done. I’ll talk with Zeus about relocating so that Porkchop doesn’t accidentally burn down any more of your buildings.”
How had my voice remained so calm? My hands weren’t even clammy. I always got sweaty hands when I had to confront this man. He must have felt a similar shock because he just blinked at me.
“Is that acceptable?”
“Are you okay?”
“I’ve been going to therapy. I’m solid. Also, next time you try to intimidate and corner me, I’m going to show you why it’s a bad idea.”
“Uh.” He blinked again and took a step back. The confusion on his face would have had me doubled over laughing if I weren’t trying so damn hard to make the conversation stick.
“Er, I was serious about the tablecloth. So let me know if you remember?”
Instead of answering, he shook his head and turned back to his own house. I let out the breath I was holding. I wanted to slide down the side of my house into the dirt and take a few deep breaths to get back the oxygen I’d been missing.
Hephaestus stopped and turned around to give me another odd look. “Do you feel that?”
“Feel what?” With a frown, I looked around. The hair on my arm was standing straight up, but I figured that was from the confrontation.
Heph shook his head and cocked it to the side. The air stilled. All sound cut out, and I took a deep breath to ask what he thought was going on.
It’s probably the only thing that saved my life.