She nodded. "Sin said they’re coming out by the dozen-just enough to make a good appetizer for us."
Yeah, and enough to do serious damage to the human race. "Go, Simi. Watch over Katra for me."
"Okay, akri. But don’t be sad." She blew him a kiss before she vanished.
He let out a tired breath as he surveyed the empty room. Everything on earth was falling apart and he was trapped here because of Artemis’s insatiable libido. Where was the justice in that? "What the hell’s going on?" He had to know.
Closing his eyes, he tried to locate Sin and the gallu, but all he saw was a haze with no real form or substance. That didn’t surprise him, though. He usually had a hard time seeing anything below while he was in Artemis’s temple. She didn’t want him to know since it would make him even more restless to leave than he already was.
But there was one person who could tell him what he needed to know…
He returned to the balcony outside Artemis’s main room and leaned against the railing. Closing his eyes again, he let his ensyneiditos travel out of his body, through the cosmos until he was in his mother’s garden. It was the only break he was allowed while here. Because the ensyneiditos was simply the conscious part of himself and not his body, he could use it to visit others while trapped on Olympus.
It was also the only way he could ever visit with his mother. If he ever appeared to her in the flesh, it would release her from her prison and allow her to destroy the world-which was her one goal in life.
His goal was to prevent that.
Floating into Kalosis, he found her sitting near the pool in the back. The obsidian rocks were as iridescent as her pale skin as she scythed by using the black water to make a sfora. His mother had lifted a portion of the water up to form a dark swirling ball in the air.
But what stunned him was the woman who stood beside her. It was a face he’d seen before, but only in his dreams. Her features were similar to his, only there was enough of her mother in that face to mark her for what she was.
The ball splintered and fell in droplets back to the water as the two of them turned to face him. And when those green eyes looked into his, he wanted to cry. But pain was nothing new to him. He was so used to hiding it that it didn’t even require any real effort on his part.
"Apostolos," his mother said breathlessly before she rose to her feet. She looked back and forth between them. "Are you angry?"
Kat couldn’t move as she waited for an answer. By the way he’d said her name, she knew someone had told him about her. And she couldn’t believe her father was here… with them. But she knew he wasn’t really here. He was only an apparition. He couldn’t have any real contact with his mother without it freeing her.
Still he was looking at Kat with a stern expression.
She’d dreamt of this moment where he knew her for what she was millions of times in her life. Only in her dreams she was filled with happiness, not trepidation. She’d tried to imagine every possible scenario for their meeting, but none of them had come close to this.
Now she wanted to run to him and hug him. If only she could. His cold demeanor was such that she was afraid to even move.
"Dad?" she asked hesitantly.
He looked away as a single tear fled down his cheek and he faded away from them. It made Kat’s own eyes swim as her emotions gathered in her throat to bitterly choke her.
Her grandmother placed a tender hand on her shoulder. "Go to him, Katra. He needs you."
She nodded before she flashed herself from Kalosis to Olympus. She was on the balcony where she’d frolicked and played as a child.
And her father was only a few feet from her.
Kat wasn’t sure what to say or do. She wanted to run to him. Or, better yet, say something. But nothing came to mind while she felt his pain and sorrow.
He stood as still as a statue, gazing out on the garden below.
Suddenly he gasped as his consciousness returned to his body. Her heart stopped the instant he turned toward her and met her gaze.
Her tears flowed down her cheeks as her emotions overwhelmed her. She wiped angrily at them. "I don’t normally do this. I’m really not that emotional."
Still he didn’t speak. He merely walked toward her as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He stopped just before her and stared at her as if she were a wraith.
Up close, he seemed so much larger. Much more powerful. She supposed it was normal for a daughter to be intimidated to a degree by her father. But she was honestly scared.
"Have you had a good life?" he asked in a gentle tone.
That single question only made her cry harder as she nodded. "I only wanted for one thing"
"And that was?"
Ash couldn’t breathe as his own tears fell from his eyes. It infuriated him. He didn’t cry. Ever.
Yet the thought of having missed so much of her life, the knowledge that he was a complete stranger to his own daughter, tore him apart.
How many children had he coddled and protected over the centuries? How many had he held, wishing he had his own, but convinced that he was incapable of it? Now to learn that he’d had a daughter all this time…
It was so unfair.
He swallowed as he ached to reach out to touch her but was afraid she’d shove him away like everyone else in his past. Surely she must hate him for his neglect. He wouldn’t blame her if she did. God knows, he’d felt that way when he learned about his real parents. He’d despised them for never telling him who they were, for never being there when he needed comfort or love.
Until now, he hadn’t realized how hard his first meeting with his mother must have been for her.
"I don’t even know what to say to you," he whispered.
"Me, either. I guess we’ll just stand here and cry at each other, huh?"
He laughed at her unexpected humor.
Kat wiped at her eyes again. "Can I hug you?"
Ash held his arms out, and before he could move she ran to him. The feel of her there as he wrapped his arms around her rattled him to the depths of his soul. This was his daughter. His true flesh and blood. A wave of possessive pride ripped through him, but the love he felt for her was enough to almost drown him.
Now he fully understood his mother and her anger on the night she’d learned about his past. He wanted to hurt anyone who’d ever hurt Kat.
The guilt over not being there…
Not once in Kat’s life had he held her. Never had she cried and felt his comforting touch. She’d lived knowing nothing about him other than the fact that he had donated DNA to make her. His only comfort was that he’d never known about her existence.
How much worse had it been for his mother to know he was out there but to not be able to go to him?
"I’m so sorry," he breathed against Kat’s hair as he cradled her head in his palm. "I didn’t know."
"I know you didn’t."
Still he wanted her to understand just how sorry he felt. "Why didn’t you ever come to me?"
"When I was young I was afraid you’d be mad at me. Every time I saw you come here, you were always so angry. You hated Artemis and I was afraid you’d hate me for tying you to her."
He pulled back and cupped her face in his hands. "I could never hate you."
Kat had waited her whole life to hear those words, as more tears gathered in her eyes. To feel the touch of her father. It was so much sweeter than she’d ever imagined. "I love you, Dad."
Ash let out a sob as pain wracked him. Those words tore through every fiber of his being. "I’m so sorry, Katra."
"Me, too. I should have told you. I know that. But I really didn’t know what you’d do to Mom. I was afraid you’d kill her."
He gave a bitter laugh. "I probably would have" He shook his head as he looked her up and down. "You’re so beautiful. I wish I’d seen you as a child."
She gave him a coy grin. "You didn’t miss much. I had buck teeth and stringy hair."
He laughed. "I seriously doubt that."
"It’s true, and I was really hideous as a preteen. Tall and gawky. I used to bump my head into everything. Still do sometimes."
He shook his head at her. "You are my daughter."
"Sure I am," she scoffed. "I can’t imagine you ever being uncoordinated."
"Oh, I assure you I’ve nailed quite a few signs with my forehead. It’s a wonder ‘Exits’ isn’t permanently imprinted right between my eyes."
Her melodic laugh filled his ears and made his heart ache.
Ash couldn’t get over how similar her mannerisms were to his. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing someone else’s face in your stead.
But his joy was cut short by another fear as he realized just how similar the two of them were and what that might have meant for Katra growing up. "Has your mother been good to you?"
A slow smile spread across her face. "For her, yeah. I mean other than the fact I could never call her Matisera unless we were alone, she really was good."
How awful to never be able to acknowledge Artemis as her mother in public. He knew that pain well and it made him even angrier that Artemis, having done that to him, would also do it to his child.
How selfish could one person be?
"Is she loving to you?"
Kat swallowed at his question and she knew exactly what he meant by it. He was afraid her mother had been cold to her. But in spite of Artemis’s shortcomings, that had never been the case.
Wanting to set his mind at ease, Kat took his hand into hers and closed her eyes so that she could show him.
Ash jerked as he saw Katra’s memories in his mind. She was no more than seven and she was alone with her mother in Artemis’s bedchamber. They were curled up together in Artemis’s bed.
Katra frowned as she laid a tiny hand to Artemis’s moist cheek. "Why do you cry, Matisera?"
"You’re too young to understand, my little one."
"Then you can tell me why you cry and I won’t understand it. Then you’ll feel better and be happy again."
Artemis smiled through her tears as she lifted the blanket higher around Kat’s shoulders. "I made a horrible mistake."
Her young brow was furrowed in puzzlement. "But you’re a goddess. You can’t make mistakes."
Artemis took Kat’s small hand into hers and placed a tender kiss on it. "Trust me, little one. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the gods, and ours are much worse than those of humans. Unlike humans, we don’t suffer alone. Rather, we share the pain with thousands. That’s why you must learn to be like your father. To hold in your tears and anger. Try not to punish what you love."
"But you don’t punish me, Matisera."
Artemis kissed her on the forehead. "No, Katra, I don’t. I love my little treasure."
Still Katra looked confused by her mother’s tears. "Am I your mistake, Matisera?"
"Oh, great Olympus, no! Why ever would you think that, child? "
" ‘Cause no one can know about me. Aren’t you supposed to hide your mistakes?"
"Oh, baby, no. That’s not why I have to hide you. I just don’t want to share you with anyone. You are mine alone. You will always be my little girl and I don’t want to share you with anyone else."
Kat scratched her tiny head. "Do you think my father would love me?"
Artemis rubbed her nose against Kat’s before she answered. "Your father would love you even more than I do. He would wake you with tickles and kisses, and send you to bed with a warm hug."
"Then why don’t we find him?"
The sadness returned to Artemis’s face. "Because he hates me and he wants nothing to do with me."
"Why would anyone hate you, Matisera? You are wonderful and kind. Loving. I can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t see that about you."
Artemis smoothed her blond curls. "I wronged him, Katra. Greatly." She sighed regretfully. "I had the entire world in my hand at one time and I didn’t know it. I let stupidity blind me and I lost him because of that."
"Then tell him you’re sorry."
"As your father would say, there are some things ‘sorry’ can’t repair. Some pains run too deep to ever be healed by something as simple as words, no matter how much you mean them."
Katra sat up in bed. "But I can heal anything. I will put my hand over his heart and make it all better. Then he will love you again."
Artemis pulled her close and held her tight. "My little treasure. How I wish that you could. But it’s all right. He gave me you, and you I can love without regret."
Kat released Ash and pulled her thoughts away from that memory. "She wasn’t always a perfect mother, but I couldn’t have had much better. And even when she was less than perfect, I always knew that she loved me."
Ash couldn’t speak as the image of them haunted him. It was a side of Artemis that he’d forgotten existed. Since the day Artemis had brought him back from the dead, she’d punished him for the fact that she loved him.
She would pull him into her bed to use his body and then kick him away once they were finished. Even when he’d loved her, her love had been selfish.
She’d blamed him for everything.
But in the beginning, she’d been kind to him. She’d once held him and laughed with him over nothing at all. Now he couldn’t remember the last time they’d laughed at anything. The last time she’d just touched him for no other reason than he was near her.