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Song of the Soul by Lisa Kessler (1)

CHAPTER 1

Trinity Porter twisted the tuning peg on her guitar as she scanned the crowd of elite guests milling about the Crystal City Observatory. She strummed her thumb across the strings and made a couple more adjustments until her ear approved of the tone of the open chord.

Her sisters should have been there by now. They weren’t sisters by blood, but all of them had been led to Crystal City by prophetic dreams for the same purpose: restoring and reopening Les Neuf Soeurs, the Theater of the Muses. Eventually, they had come to learn that they each embodied one of the nine daughters of Zeus. They were each vessels inspired by the muse inside her soul. And Trinity was the human vessel for Euterpe, the Muse of Music. Other than her and her sisters, there were only two people at this black-tie event that knew the Greek muses walked among them. And she had no intention of speaking to either of them.

She had only accepted the invitation to entertain at tonight’s gala because the new telescope they were unveiling, a gift from Mikolas Leandros to the city, was being named after her friend, Nia Miller. Nia, the Muse of Astronomy, was the light of their sisterhood, but her life was cut short by fanatics in black robes and gold masks. Her murder still haunted Trinity. And no amount of money, or memorials in her name, would bring Nia back.

“Hey, Trin.” Erica approached wearing a flashy red dress that accentuated every curve of her full-figured body.

“Hi, Erica. I was starting to worry.”

Erica was also Erato, the Muse of Lyrics and Erotic Poetry. She and Trinity used to be roommates before Erica found her Guardian, got married, and had an adorable baby girl. Trinity was happy for her, of course, but it was lonely being the only Muse without a Guardian.

“He hasn’t come by to talk to you?” Erica asked, keeping her voice low as she skimmed the crowd for the rich Greek who had donated the telescope. “He swooped in, stopped Kronos, and now he’s immortalizing Nia with a telescope.” She turned to Trinity again. “Maybe he’s not the bad guy we think he is.”

“Well I’m not going to talk to him and find out. No more men for me, thanks.” Trinity tipped her head toward the way-too-sexy-for-his-own-good billionaire staring at her from the other side of the champagne fountain. “He’s over there. Do me a favor and keep him busy.”

Erica followed her gaze and sighed. “Damn. He looks even better in a tux.”

“Yeah.” Trinity focused on her instrument, readjusting the microphone pointed at the hole in the center of her guitar. “I still don’t want to speak to him.”

“I know. I’m on it.” She started to go but then turned back. “You know we’d all be dead right now if Mikolas hadn’t sent Kronos back to Tartarus.”

“Maybe.” Trinity narrowed her eyes at Erica. “But it won’t bring back Nia or Polly.”

“I know, but still…” She glanced around the room and back to Trinity. “Ted Belkin is supposed to be here someplace, too.”

Ted Belkin. Just hearing his name added weight to the guilt on Trinity’s shoulders. Ted’s father had been the leader of the Order of the Titans, the guys in the robes and masks that murdered Nia. Ted had also been her boyfriend in college. Huge mistake.

“Lia and Cooper are covering him.”

Erica cocked a brow. “You have this all planned out.”

Trinity almost smiled as she shrugged. “I’m here to make music. I’m not dealing with any other bullshit. Tonight is for Nia.”

Erica nodded. “Break a leg, Trin.”

Trinity strummed her guitar and gave the sound guy a thumbs-up. The mic went live, and she leaned into it. “Good evening. I’m Trinity Porter. Thanks to the Friends of the Crystal City Observatory for inviting me to be here tonight.”

Her playlist for the night featured a couple of covers, a few tunes off her most recent album, and a song she and Erica had written together to celebrate Nia’s life, “Starlight.”

Trinity started playing and lost herself in the music, allowing the muse inside her soul to take over. The crowd faded away until only the song remained. Her voice joined the melody, weaving emotions into a tapestry of song.

Heaven.

The emotion that filled her songs tore at Mikolas like a fist clenching around his heart. The smooth notes from her guitar blended with her smoky voice, and slid under his skin, kindling the pain and regret lurking deep in his soul.

A redhead in a slinky red dress approached. She picked up a champagne glass and tipped it into the fountain.

“Did she send you over here to distract me?” Mikolas sipped his drink without taking his gaze off Trinity.

She lifted her glass. “Yes.”

He forced his attention away from the songstress in the center of the room and looked at her friend. “So she’s smart and beautiful.”

Erica nodded slowly. “Yeahhh.” She cleared her throat. “I’m Erica, by the way.”

“I know who you are.” He’d spent the past year undercover, infiltrating the Order of the Titans. He’d taken charge and insisted that there would be no more muse killing. The muses were well aware he’d been leading the Order, so she had to know that he not only knew their names but where they lived and worked, too. There was no sense playing games about it.

He focused on Trinity again. All this time he’d believed he’d been marked to be the Guardian of the Muse of Astronomy as his grandfather had been before him. And for months, he’d thought he’d failed Nia. She had already been killed by the time he’d arrived in Crystal City, and he’d punished himself for so long, he wasn’t sure how to end the self-loathing.

It wasn’t until the day he’d sent Kronos back to his prison in Tartarus that he had realized he’d been wrong. The second he had discovered Trinity backstage at the theater after the dance recital, his crescent-shaped birthmark burned, a sign he’d found his muse. In his panic to save her from Kronos, he’d plunged a crystal shard into the back of the Father of the Gods, banishing him from this world.

But saving her hadn’t changed her perception of him. He’d been the leader of the Order of the Titans, the fanatics that killed her friends, and part of him accepted her disdain.

Erica cleared her throat. “So how about blending into the crowd and leaving her alone tonight?”

“I have no intention of interrupting her.” He sipped his champagne. “However, did you notice our uninvited guest?” He pointed to an older gentleman in a purple hooligan hat. “Now that we’ve cleaned up his mess, he’s suddenly ready to support his daughters.”

Erica sighed. “Zack Vrontios is Agnes Hanover’s ride. She doesn’t know his real identity. To her, he’s just a sweet guy in her retirement community.”

“And Agnes is…?” Mikolas took another sip of his champagne.

“She’s Cooper’s grandmother, and her generation’s Muse of Hymns.”

He frowned. “And Zack drives her around without mentioning he’s really…Polyhymnia’s father?”

Erica clicked her glass to his. “You know your muses.”

“I do.” He glanced over at her as he knocked back the rest of his drink. “What I don’t know is why Zack keeps up this disguise. We know who he really is. The mighty Zeus hides in our world in the form of an elderly man like a coward.” Mikolas shook his head. “He has no business being here tonight. He could have stopped the Order of the Titans with a wave of his hand. Nia didn’t have to die.”

“I agree on that final point.” Erica raised a brow, her hip jutting to the side. “Look, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of unresolved issues with Zack, but all I care about is that you respect Trin’s wishes and keep your distance.”

He clenched his jaw and nodded.

“Thanks.” Erica made her way through the crowd back to her friends, leaving Mikolas alone.

He glared at Zack until the old man finally turned. Their gazes locked for a moment before he made his way over to Mikolas.

The mighty Zeus. Using a cane.

Mikolas rolled his eyes as Zack stopped beside him. Zack tugged at the brim of his purple hat. “I think we need to talk.”

Mikolas crossed his arms. “I have nothing to say to you.”

“That’s fine. I can talk for both of us.” Zeus chuckled. “I wanted to thank you for protecting my daughters from my father’s ambush.”

Mikolas narrowed his eyes at the deity masquerading as a harmless retiree. “I didn’t know if the shard would work. They all could have died. How many would he have tortured before you finally broke out of this mortal disguise and protected them? The Guardians’ prophecy calls the muses your treasure, but you have a sick way of showing it, old man.”

“Well…” Zack cocked a silver brow. “You found something to say after all.”

Mikolas cursed under his breath, focusing on Trinity again. “Why are you still here?”

“Because Trinity is special to me.” He touched Mikolas’s shoulder, and all Mikolas’s muscles contracted, the energy knotting under his skin and stealing his breath. Zack lowered his voice. “I bestowed a piece of my power in your heart while you were in your mother’s womb. I expect you to use it. The danger hasn’t passed; Trinity is vulnerable unless you’re at her side.”

Zack released him, and Mikolas sucked in a deep breath, frowning. “What the hell are you talking about? Kronos was banished to Tartarus, and the Order of the Titans was defeated. The fight is over.”

Mikolas gestured toward the songstress in the center of the Observatory. “And even if it weren’t, she hates me, and with good reason. She thinks I ordered the fire that nearly killed all of them. I couldn’t tell her anything more at the time without losing the influence I had over the Order and your father’s mistress, Philyra. The battles you chose to hide from.”

“You think the danger has passed? Far from it.” Something sparked in the old man’s bright-blue eyes. Power. Raw and primal. For a moment, the visage of the old man melted away to reveal Zeus’s true form, his lightning bolt clenched in a tight fist. Fear stirred in Mikolas’s stomach, but when he blinked, Zack was there again.

“Tell me something, Mikolas,” he whispered. “My mother’s shard banished Kronos back to Tartarus, but he’s already breached the prison in the Earth’s core once. What’s to stop him from doing it again? Maybe this time, he’ll even bring some of his Titan brethren with him.”

A chill shot through Mikolas, and his gaze snapped to Trinity. “Will you help me protect her?”

“You and the other Guardians have the gifts to keep them safe. Work together while I deal with Kronos. He can’t be killed, and now that he can escape from Tartarus, there’s no place we can trap him, either. If he brings another Titan through to this world, you and the Guardians will need to handle it until I’ve settled things with my father.”

“I have the Guardian’s mark—” Mikolas looked over at Zack “—but I don’t have a gift. My birthmark burned when Trinity was in danger, but nothing awakened inside me. The other Guardians have super strength, incredible speed, mind reading, or telekinesis. Nothing changed when I found my muse.”

Zack smirked. “No human could have wielded the shard. It would have killed you instantly when you touched it.”

What the hell was the old man talking about?

Suddenly, a memory awoke within him. “Rhea. Your mother. She took the shard from me after Kronos vanished. She said I shouldn’t have been able to hold it, but before I could ask her anything, she was gone.”

Zack squeezed his forearm. This time there was no electrical charge. His voice dropped to a whisper. “I already told you, a piece of my power bloomed in your heart before you were born. It took finding Trinity to awaken it. You’re a demigod, Mikolas.”

Mikolas blinked in disbelief, struggling to find words. “Like Achilles or… Are you saying I can throw lightning bolts like you can?”

“No lightning bolts, and you aren’t impervious to wounds either.” Zack chuckled. “But you can harness divine power. You can channel it without harming your mortal body.”

Mikolas rubbed his forehead, struggling to make sense of this new information. “I don’t understand.”

“You will.” Zack leaned on his golden cane. “Be alert.” He looked over at Trinity, a wistful curve to his lips. “She carries around almost as much guilt as you do, my boy.” His eyes locked on Mikolas again. “Be good to her and keep her safe.”

He turned and made his way through the crowd much more quickly than his aged physical form should’ve allowed. Mikolas replayed the conversation in his mind, trying to digest the meaning, but Trinity’s voice cut through and calmed the storm.

“This is a new song for our friend, Nia. It’s called ‘Starlight.’” She glanced to the heavens and then strummed her guitar.

“We’re made from stardust, so they say,

“Though you shone brighter than the stars each day.

“Now you’re gone, but your shadow lingers.

“The light snuffed out by unseen fingers.

“We look to the stars, they twinkle and shine,

“People make wishes and beg the divine.

“But they don’t know the magic of your smile,

“Or the inspiration you poured out by the mile.

“You were our starlight.

“Our magic and joy.

“Even the darkness can’t hide you.

“You still sparkle and glow,

“So the world will know.

“Hope still lives…in the starlight.”

The chorus swelled, her pain laid bare, and Mikolas couldn’t find words to describe the spell she’d cast over the crowd. The final verse was quiet but full of hope, and when the last chord faded into the ether, silence clung to the room for a moment. Gradually, applause broke out, and Mikolas joined in as Zeus’s warning crept back into his mind.

Tartarus wouldn’t be able to hold Kronos.

If Zack was right, the Father of the Gods would return to Crystal City, and his righteous anger could destroy the entire world. No amount of inspiration would be able to save them.

Ted Belkin tugged at his bow tie as he finished off his Vodka Collins. He placed the glass on the catering tray a little harder than he’d intended to. No amount of alcohol could deaden the ache inside when he listened to Trinity sing. He could drown under the weight of his regrets. He’d made so many mistakes—colossal errors in judgment.

There was no way to atone for his actions. Sure, he had excuses. His sick desire to please his father, his eagerness to avenge his father’s death, and that didn’t even scratch the surface when it came to Pamela. She’d hidden herself among the humans and driven the Order of the Titans to murder. Her true identity, Philyra—Kronos’s mistress—was realized much too late. She had played Ted like a fiddle.

The only good to come from the past two years had been his tenuous allegiance with Mikolas Leandros. The Greek businessman had become the closest thing Ted had to a friend since his father’s death. And now even that one bright spot was being tarnished.

He’d earned this karma, he understood that, but dammit, that didn’t make tonight any easier.

When Mikolas arrived in Crystal City, he’d been convinced his muse was dead and had struggled to compensate for his failure to save Nia, only to find his true muse: Trinity. It was fucking cruel, but did he deserve any better? Probably not.

Mikolas hadn’t planned for it to happen. The gods did. They let Mikolas believe he’d failed his muse, but in the end, he hadn’t been marked to be Nia’s Guardian at all. The gods had chosen the Greek to be the protector of the Muse of Melody.

Ted watched Trinity strum her guitar, her voice reaching right into his chest, clutching his heart. God, he needed another drink.

She’d been his once. His first love. She had made him believe he could chase his dreams instead of following in his father’s footsteps. She’d inspired him to be more. And he’d gone and repaid her by dumping her, skipping town, and betraying her and her muse sisters to his father and the Order of the Titans.

He shook his head as he headed for the bar. He’d tried to make amends, to help the muses fight Kronos, but it would never bring back Nia or Polly. And it would never change the fact that Zeus had marked Ted’s only friend to be the protector of the only woman Ted had ever loved.

“Another please.” He laid a crisp twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

Mikolas stopped beside him. “Make it two.”

Ted sighed. “Saw the old guy having a few words with you.”

“Yeah.” Mikolas turned around to watch Trinity and leaned back against the bar as he swirled the ice in his glass. “He thinks Kronos will be back, and we need to be ready.”

“Shit.” Ted ran a hand down his face. “Let me guess… Zack isn’t going to lose the disguise and become the all-powerful Zeus.”

“I have no idea, but we can’t count on him.” He glanced at Ted. “The explosion on the Oceanus rig cracked Tartarus. There’s a chance Kronos won’t be the only one coming back for a visit.”

“You’re kidding me. He seriously expects us to face off with the Father of the Gods and his Titan brothers?” Ted shook his head, the buzz of the alcohol fading as panic churned in his gut. His instinct to run clawed its way forward, but seriously, where could he go that a god couldn’t’ find him? Shit. Desperation filled his voice. “Maybe Rhea has another magic crystal or something we can use.”

“Maybe. We’ll have to go see her soon.” Mikolas cursed under his breath, frowning as he rubbed his lower back. “Shit. Something’s wrong.” He snapped his head up, all his attention on Trinity.

Ted’s eyes darted from Trinity to Mikolas. “What is it?”

“The mark. It’s burning again.” Mikolas’s eyes widened. “We may not have enough time to find Rhea.”