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Authors: Jessie Harrell


BOOK: Before
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Eros before Psyche

by: Jessie Harrell


Copyright Jessie Harrell 2012

Mae Day Publishing


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Cover designed by Leigh Schinaia



Exile is supposed to be punishment. Temporary exile, temporary punishment.

The last time I shot Zeus with my arrows and made him seduce a mortal woman in the form of a goat (it seemed funny at the time), he imposed the later sentence. Six weeks in Media. Six weeks in a region where the gods are ignored in favor of some sort of religion called Zorastrianism. Whatever that is.

Zeus even took my wings, so I couldn’t sneak back. I didn’t know he could do that, but one shake from his staff and they were gone and I was dumped on my ass in the middle of some City I’d never seen before. There I was, the god of Love, cast off Olympus like a leper.

Someone needs to learn how to take a jok

As I stood and dusted off my cloak, the reality of my exile hit me. I felt like a thirsty man in the middle of the ocean. People were everywhere in this overrun region, yet not a single one would offer me a tribute. No small clay figure, no offering of incense. Nothing to feed my hungry ego.

Without the prayers and tokens I so desperately craved, I figured I’d be dead on my feet by the end of those six weeks. I was right about being dead on my feet, just wrong about the reason.


Greeks don’t build places like this. An artificial hill, surrounded by a low, stone wall, rose up to meet the night sky. At the top, flames licked at burning logs, reducing them to brittle bones. The air stank of sandalwood as revelers pressed against each other, battling for space to toss their meager twigs into the hungry inferno.

Hunkered down in a rough wool cloak, I’d snuck in to watch the religious ceremony. I stayed against the perimeter, hoping to enjoy the spectacle anonymously. But the flames cast these creepy-seductive shadows against the walls, making me feel watched. And present in the moment of the dance.

The longer I watched, the more I wanted to join the swirling crowd. The movements of those performing the ritual were hypnotic, reminding me of the way Maenads twirl for Dionysus. But one figure dancing before the firelight stood out from the rest.

Her slender hips pulsed with the rhythm of the drums.  Soft, brown curls swirled down her back, caressing her shoulders and barely tickling her waist. I watched her move, entranced by the way motion flowed from her.

When she turned her head and caught my prying gaze, her eyes were as emerald as any gem. Finding my stare, she narrowed her lids for a moment. Then she smirked, shot me a wink, and went back to her dance.

That was all the invitation I needed.

The rest of the night was a blur of sour wine, too much smoke from the bonfire, and lust so consuming I thought it might swallow me whole. There I was, the god of Love, but she held all the power without even realizing it. Or maybe she did know. Maybe that was part of what intoxicated me too. In Greece, no mortal girl could bend me. None dared. But in Media, I was anonymous in a way that gave me a freedom to just exist. Here, I could be anyone. No pressures. No expectations. No women holding back in reverence to a god.

I remember circling her in our dance. The flames shot shadows across her face as we spun, still not touching. In the changing light she was mysterious. Then aloof. Then hungry. Her eyes seared into mine, like burning pools of emerald oil. My skin ached for her to touch me. Just reach out across the centimeters separating us and ignite every nerve ending in my flesh.

But I waited for her to close the distance. If I was giving her the power, she could control the timing as well. I just enjoyed the burn.

Following a fast spin to the raging drums, the scent of almonds overwhelmed me as her locks whipped across my face. I nearly reached out to stop her then, or at least help her after such a wild twirl, but she was still in control. And seductively moving away so that all I wanted was to draw her closer.

When her fingertips finally brushed my shoulder, the faint tickle of her nails sent a delicious shudder down my spine. With the connection made, I couldn’t hold back any longer. Reaching out, I threaded my fingers through hers and squeezed. She drew closer, until her lips hovered just below mine.

“Hi,” she whispered. Her moist lips glinted in the firelight.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I could ask you the same thing.” She smirked.

“Then do it,” I prompted, contemplating the lie I would tell. The name I would use when pressed.

Her dancing stilled. She looked up at me from under her thick, dark lashes. “Does it matter?” 

I shook my head. “Not really.”

As she started to rise on her toes, I met her halfway. Our lips meshed together with an intensity that made them swell. She tasted of cinnamon and another spice that felt foreign on my tongue.

And I loved it. Religious ritual be damned, once we started, I couldn’t stop drinking her in. Her kiss was potent. Like pure ambrosia coursed through my veins, making me invincible.    

For the next two weeks, I was lost in her embrace. The world didn’t exist for me beyond her. When she called to me, my heart nearly liquified. Her laughter was like the delicate clinking of coins. She made me forget my temporary exile. Forget everything aside from her perfect face. Her delicate name.


The way the word rolled off my tongue was a music all its own, smooth and velvety. I didn’t think I could ever find a woman more perfect for me and I silently thanked Zeus every day for his punishment.

Of course, I hadn’t told Lelah who I really was. Or why I was in Media. I’d conjured a lie. Something vague about being a deserter from the Greek army and needing to remain hidden for a little while. It seemed like a good idea to make sure she never wanted me to meet her parents. Never expected me to marry her.

And like a good little co-conspirator, Lelah kept me hidden in her room; locked away right under her parents’ noses. The secrecy of the whole thing only added to the intensity of our passion. I can only imagine what they must have thought, their daughter suddenly spending so much time in her room. But neither one of us cared. All that mattered was that when we were apart, we both ached with a need we couldn’t explain.

There was this one night, her parents had some guests and Lelah was late returning with my contraband dinner. My stomach clenched and gurgled from hunger, but the minute she stepped through the threshold, those pains were forgotten.

I watched her from across the room as she set her oil lamp on a table and unrolled the cloth concealing my dinner. Her moments were hurried. I could tell she felt bad about keeping me waiting and was trying to make up for it.

While she was distracted arranging my meal, I slipped behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist. As my nose nuzzled into her thick hair, I was lost in scent of almonds.

“I’m sorry,” she said, turning around to face me. “I know you must be famished.”

“I am,” I admitted.

Her gaze shifted away from mine and her lip quivered the tiniest bit. She truly felt terrible for making her stowaway wait. She’d never looked more delicious.

I caught her chin and tilted her face back up to meet mine. “But the food can wait.” Sweeping the rolls and hunks of meat to the side, I lifted Lelah onto the table and found all the sustenance I needed that night in her kiss. Her lips parted softly for me; her long, delicate fingers wound through my hair and gently scratched at my scalp.

The more time we spent together, the more I contemplated taking her back to Olympus with me when my exile was over. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how well a mortal would be received by the rest of the gods. They seemed to like humans well enough as toys, but not necessarily permanent additions in our estate. So where did that leave me?


I wasn’t sure, but for the time it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I’d stay with her forever if she asked me.

But she didn’t.

Instead, she asked me the one question I was foolish enough to answer. Lying in bed early one morning, before the rays of the sun pried us apart, Lelah nudged my nose with hers.

“You know, I don’t believe you’re really a deserter. You’re too smart for that. And too perfect.” She ran her hands over my shoulders and pulled me closer. “So who are you really Mr. Mysterious? A diplomat? A prince?”

When I told her my true name, she laughed. Only this time, it wasn’t tinkling and merry. It was raucous and jarring. Her head tilted back as her chortles escaped up her throat and tangled around me. She must’ve thought I was joking. At the very least, she didn’t believe.

Didn’t believe in me.

The more I persisted, the weaker she laughed. The dimmer her eyes grew. In a moment of blind outrage, I ignited my inner light, intending only to show her a spark of my divinity. As my skin began to glow beneath the surface, Lelah scrambled backward in our bed like a crab. Her legs tangled in the sheets and she fell to the floor, shrieking.

“Sorcerer, get out!”

Where her eyes used to be awash in love, they were now mired in fear. I wanted to hate her for denying me, sending me into another sort of exile, but the fault was just as much mine. Had I not met her in a country that denies the gods? At a ritual for another religion?

I was a fool for thinking she’d believe in a concept so foreign to her. I was a fool for not recognizing that she’d never believe in me.

Her cries didn’t go unnoticed, of course. Lelah’s father burst into the room like a cyclops with a grudge. His meaty hand reached for my neck and I did the only thing left to do. I ran.

Being younger and faster, I easily out paced him down the hall and burst into the crowded streets of Media. People were everywhere and my eyes watered under the intense sunlight. I hadn’t been outside in weeks and the sudden presence of it was overwhelming. But I couldn’t stop. I ran until I was sure Lelah’s father could never track me down. I ran faster, pushed harder, hoping my heart might actually explode from the exertion. Anything other than have to think about what had just happened.

Even death sounded better.

As I wandered through Media in the month that followed, I was able to encase the shattered pieces of my heart in a wall thicker than the one surrounding the bonfire that first night I’d met Lelah. The weeks drifted by in a hazy blur as I drank too much wine and grew weak from the lack of prayers. I recall spending more than one night sleeping under whatever tree was nearest the entrance of the last bar I’d visited. But as I passed the time in a stupor, I quickly realized that my temporary exile was the least of my punishments; it was nothing in comparison to the wrenching pain of lost love.

The one thought bouncing through my slogging brain with any clarity was that I would never trust again. Never love again. Especially not a mortal. Once my heart was whole, I would never again let it be shattered. For nearly two years, I kept that promise to myself. I found comfort in the arms of various nymphs and women, but I never let myself get attached. Never let down my walls.

And then came Psyche.



If you like what you’ve read, please consider buying DESTINED and finding out what happens to Eros when love goes right.




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