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The Playboy God (Gods of Olympus Book 7) by Erin Hayes, Gods Of Olympus (1)

1

COULD THIS MAN PLAY CUPID FOR YOU?

The headline of the article framed on my wall feels almost out of place, and when my mind drifts during a consultation, I find myself looking at it.

I wonder things like why the hell I decided to wear that shirt for that picture. Or why, even though I’m one of the most photogenic beings that ever existed, I look completely ill at ease. It was The New Yorker, after all, doing an expose on my matchmaking business. My personal assistant Maxine Galloway wanted to immortalize it in a frame. I vehemently told her no, but when I showed up to work a few months ago, there it was.

And there it stays.

Max is headstrong about things like that. It’s what makes her a damn good personal assistant. It also makes her a pain in my ass. I know she paid for it out of pocket, and while I pay her pretty good money, I know that it’s tough being a single mother working in Manhattan on any salary. So, while the frame certainly isn’t my taste—one look at the accompanying art and sculptures will tell you that—and the self-boasting feels a bit too haughty, even for me, I’ve kept it on the wall opposite my grand mahogany desk where I can look at it as one of my clients prattles on and on and on…

And my current client is still talking.

Miss Tiffanie Hooker.

Yes, that’s her real name, complete with the cutesy “ie” and the world’s oldest profession that you don’t want associated with your reputation. Especially in dating. It’s probably why she only finds assholes on dating apps. She’s probably gotten so many one-liners that, at first, made her chuckle. Now those same one-liners just make her sad. She’d go out to dinner with these assholes and think she found love and sleep with them. And then they’d ghost her. Never to be heard from again. And it continues because I know Miss Tiffanie-with-an-ie is desperate for love.

And men take advantage of desperation like that.

The human condition isn’t one of monogamy. Maybe it was when mortals only lived until their thirties—it’s hard to fall out of love when your life goes by in the blink of an eye—but with people living longer and with impossibly high expectations of love…well, it’s difficult to find your soul mate anywhere.

I should know. I’m Damien Eros, the Matchmaking God of Manhattan. Pay me a quarter million dollars and I’ll find you true love. Or as true as love gets these days. I raise my hand to hide a smirk. When did I become such a cynic?

Probably over thousands of years of seeing humans treat each other like shit. Yes, thousands of years.

Because I’m also Eros, the god of erotic love. You may know me better as Cupid. Valentine’s Day celebrates me with a chubby little baby in a diaper with wings and a bow and arrow.

I do not look like that, even when I was a baby. I assure you. Women fall at my feet. They say I’m tall and handsome.

I say I’m just a playboy god.

No one believes me. At least the “god” part. Then again, why would they? I’m living as a mortal among them.

I wet my lips and flash Miss Tiffanie-with-a-tragic-last-name a smile, one so brilliant that her deluge of words stumbles to a halt and she only blinks at me. Well then, if that was all it took to shut her up, I would have done it twenty minutes ago.

“I think I can help you, Miss Hooker.”

Her eyes flutter with something akin to hope. “You’re sure?”

“One hundred percent.”

I don’t even have to hear her sob story to know that. I’m the god of love, after all. With just a snap of my fingers, she’d be in a committed relationship with Chris Evans if she wanted. It’s why I’m booked on a flat rate—sometimes I do my job so quickly and so well, if I got paid by the hour, I’d have to commute to my office from New Jersey, because there’s no way I’d be able to afford my penthouse suite that overlooks Central Park.

“But, all the dating apps,” she protests. “All the websites, all the blind dates—none of them have worked out.”

I lean forward and take her hands in mine. “That’s because they don’t understand you. Not like I do.” I rub the back of her hand with my thumb, and I hear her breath catch. “You’re in good hands, Miss Hooker.”

Our eyes meet, and she purses her lips, almost like she wants to kiss me. I drop her hands with a jerk, and she sits back and bites her bottom lip, clearly bewildered.

I should tell her to do that when I do set her up—it’s damned cute. Not that it has any effect on me.

“My assistant will walk you to the door,” I say, buzzing in Max. “You’ll hear from me in a week when I find an appropriate date for you.”

Tiffanie frowns. “That’s…it?”

“That’s it.”

One of the doors opens, and Maxine strides in on her red stilettos. On a scale of 1-10, she’s about an eight, with her dirty blond hair pulled back into a ponytail and her intelligent green eyes. But it’s her confidence that gives her an edge over other women who would be considered more attractive. She’d win against a beauty queen at any point, even though she’s in her mid-thirties and her best talent is arguing with me.

She raises an eyebrow at me as she comes in—I’ve cut this consultation a little shorter than others, but I’m distracted today, and I don’t want to say anything that could offend Miss Hooker. I give Max a little nod, and she catches my hidden meaning.

“I’ll take you to your limo, Miss Hooker,” she says warmly, as Tiffanie gets to her feet slowly, looking back at me with wide eyes. It’s like she’s still not ready to accept that I can fulfill her wildest dreams.

Tiffanie frowns. “Don’t you need my details? What I’m looking for in a man?”

I shake my head. “It’s not about what you’re looking for in a man,” I say. “Many of my clients—you included—come in with a preconceived notion of who you are looking for in a mate. And that’s the problem—after thirty-three years of life, you should know that he doesn’t exist. So, my job is to find someone who complements you in every way. Someone that you didn’t even know you wanted.”

She swallows. “And you can do that? Even now?”

“I guarantee it.”

Literally, I do.

If she doesn’t get married to her match-made man and stay with him for a year, I’ll give her a complete refund, as well as a week in Tahiti to get over a broken heart. I’ve had many, many clients, some are actors that you’ve heard of and most are rich—the others are desperate and put their life savings into my services—but I’ve never had someone ask for their money back.

Happy clients. Happy life. No stress on me.

Max guides Tiffanie by the elbow. “Mr. Eros or I will be in contact with your date in a week. We’ll stop by your house to get you ready for it as well.”

Tiffanie hesitates, casting a furtive glance back at me. “Get me ready?”

I wave my hand. “First impressions are everything. I want to make sure that it’s love at first sight when your match meets you.”

Her cheeks redden. “I don’t believe in love at first sight. Not anymore.”

I smile. “Good thing I do.” I invented it, after all. Not that it has ever happened to me, but that’s beside the point. Gods don’t find love. “Now, just relax and take it easy. You’ll meet the man of your dreams soon enough.

She giggles as Max rolls her eyes and finally leads her out of my office. I stay poised for just a few heartbeats before I sigh and rub at my eyes.

“Gods damn,” I whisper as I lean back in my leather office chair. I swivel around to face my window that overlooks Central Park. It’s a beautiful day outside, yet I feel like I need a break. To not worry about anything else in my life.

Doing the same job for thousands and thousands of years makes me want to gouge my eyes out so I don’t ever have to do it again. Imagine that. The god of love hating love. But after seeing billions of mortals find their better half, the idea of “love” has lost its allure and luster.

It all looks the same. Heartbeats increase, plans are made, and people live out their lives in bliss. I’m so damn tired of it.

Does Ares feel this way about war? Or Hephaestus with his forging? Surely, I’m not the only god who has gotten bored of their stature in the universe. I just want to see that spark that makes love so alluring to mortals for myself.

Yeah right.

The thing is, I can’t give up the job. Not now, not ever. Love is one of the pillars of the human world. If I don’t do my job, the world will fall into disarray. Different fates for people hinge on others finding love. And if they don’t find each other, love will lose all meaning, and that would be disastrous.

So even though it’s lost its meaning to me, I have to keep at it. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. Until the end of time.

I study my reflection in the window. A young man in his early thirties looks back at me, his light, sandy brown hair coifed in the latest ’do, longer on the top and shorter on the sides. I have a scruff coming in. I love it when fashion swings towards facial hair because it’s less that I have to do in the morning. Brilliant blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and alabaster skin round out the rest of my features. I’m in a suit and tie, looking every inch the put-together high-profile matchmaker.

At least on the outside.

“You didn’t spend very long with her.”

I glance back over my shoulder as Max closes the door to my office. She has one eyebrow raised in a way that only she can do. It makes me feel like she’s both exasperated and concerned.

“She was beginning to think that I was on the table for her,” I say, rolling my eyes.

She considers this and nods. “Ah. One of those. You should stop flirting with your clients.”

“I wasn’t flirting with her.”

She quirks an eyebrow again, giving me a dubious look, because this sort of thing happens a lot. A client will think they can be matched with the matchmaker. And, maybe, I sometimes play it up.

She walks over to the Keurig. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

A ghost of a smile turns up her lips as she pours some into a mug. “Get your own then,” she says before she takes a sip. I notice that her lipstick leaves a bright red mark on the rim. Max only puts as much money into her wardrobe as she can to make herself look professional, and top-shelf lipstick doesn’t make the cut. I know that she finds most of her clothes in thrift shops and secondhand stores, or they’re good counterfeits, like the fake Louboutins she’s wearing right now. Unlike many of the female clients who come in here, she’s not rich, so she watches every penny.

I’ve offered to buy her a new wardrobe, but she wouldn’t have any of it.

“I don’t want you thinking I owe you anything,” she told me at the time. And that was the start of our work relationship—she put that line in the sand right from the get-go. She wouldn’t be bossed around or granted gifts.

It’s a little refreshing that my good looks and charm seem not to have any effect on her. Perplexing, but refreshing. I’ll take it. Keeps things less complicated. It wouldn’t do to have my personal assistant thinking I’d sweep her off her feet.

Even though I do want to see what makes her tick and how she can resist my charms. “So, do you think that Miss Hooker will be an easy client?” Max asks, breaking into my thoughts.

“Of course,” I say as I get to my feet and pour my own coffee. She watches me with an amused smile. “Really, I should get an assistant that will pour me coffee.”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she says as she heads back to the door to sit at her desk. “She does seem like a nice woman,” she adds.

“Probably.”

“Just saying, you could maybe—”

“Get back to work, Maxine Galloway.”

She chuckles. “You too, Damien Eros. And don’t forget, you have that date tonight.”

I whirl on her. “Date, what date?”

“You’re meeting Zara Smith at Zenkichi at six o’clock tonight.”

I dimly remember setting something up with a woman a few days ago. I go on so many dates, I can’t keep up. “Zara, the leggy blond?”

She nods. “Zara, the leggy blond.”

Shit, I’d almost forgotten. “What would I do without you?”

“Probably be like every other guy and remember his dates or get dumped.” She sighs. “Seriously, though. How can you be such a good matchmaker when you pay no attention to your own love life, Damien?”

“I only have room for the happiness of others.”

She snorts. “Bullshit,” she says as she slips through the door.

“What?” I call out to her.

She doesn’t answer as the door closes, and I sit back in a chair with a huff. Mainly because I think she’s right.

What does it mean when the god of love no longer believes in love?

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