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    Leanne Strange
Greek Myth Fantasy Romance :|: LOVE'S GOLDEN ARROW


Love's Golden Arrow cover
A free-spirited huntress...
A dashing hunter...
Neither can resist the immortal temptation of...


Love's Golden Arrow

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Read the entire story below.




ABOUT LOVE'S GOLDEN ARROW

On her way to a boar hunt in Calydon, Lyra evades her family's manipulations to change her mind about her vow to remain chaste and avoid love, but runs right into it in the form of dashing hunter Theron. Theron is disdainful of those who pretend to be divine offspring, never imagining he would meet a daughter of a god in Calydon.

LOVE'S GOLDEN ARROW

From behind a thick veil of trees and underbrush, he watched her. He had stopped beside the pool and bent his head to drink of the clear cool water when he heard someone else approach. The road to Calydon was always fraught with thieves, so he hid at the edge of the woods until he could assess the stranger.

He was surprised to see a young woman, beautiful as a nymph, appear in the bend in the path. Her hair was dark as midnight and she had it gathered up into one long fall, reminiscent of a pony's tail, off the crown of her head. A long, cowled cape hung loosely off her shoulders. Beneath it she wore a short hunting chiton, gathered at each shoulder and girted at the waist, the skirt reaching halfway to her knees. On her feet were sturdy knee high boots made of woven leather.

She must have had the same idea for the pool because her steps veered toward it. She set aside her bow, threw off her mantle and pack and quiver of arrows, and knelt beside the water's edge. The short skirt rose provocatively, emphasizing the womanly curve of her hips. He was about to announce himself when suddenly she stood and undid the clasps at her shoulders. The linen fell to her waist to reveal two perfectly shaped breasts that looked as if they could fit comfortably in the palms of his hands. He shook his head. It was too late to proclaim his presence. Decency declared that he should leave but he was mesmerized by her beauty and unconstrained actions since she thought she was unobserved.

He should leave but thieves and worse did haunt the roads these days. She was alone, unprotected, and undressing to bathe in a pool, leaving herself open to all sorts of dangers. It was his duty to stay and watch and see that no harm came to her. Yes, he should turn away, but now she had untied the girt and the entire dress fell into a puddle at her feet. She was breathtaking, every inch of her skin the color of fresh cream. From her handfuls of breasts with their rosy tips to the flat stomach and rounded hips framing another realm of midnight darkness. She sat on the grass and pulled the leathern boots off of long, slender legs that went on forever.

It was definitely too late to make his presence known and much too late to turn away. She walked into the pool, sinking by inches with each step. Then she dove forward and swam across its narrow breadth several times before she emerged from the water with the sun glinting silver off of her wet skin. She undid her hair and it fell in a heavy black wave down her back

His breath caught in his chest. With apologies to the fair goddess, Aphrodite could not have looked more lovely stepping from the seafoam at her birth.

She lay down on a grassy knoll beside the pool, letting Helios' bright rays worship her body. And it was all he could do not to go to her and take her there and then, without permission, without saying a word. The ache in his loin was almost unbearable as his eyes devoured every inch of her. He wished that for one moment he could be a droplet of water sliding between her breasts or slipping between her thighs.

Never before had the sight of a woman affected him in this way. He had seen many desirably beautiful women, and some he had pleasured himself with, but none of them had made him want to trade his mortal soul for a moment as a drop of water on their bodies. It took all of his willpower not to rush from the trees and lay his aching body on top of hers. All that stopped him was the look of horror he would see on her face. And he was a decent man. Watching her had tweaked his conscience, but he was incapable of going any further. He would not hurt her in any way. She didn't stay there long. The heat of the sun had dried her lithe body. She strapped on her boots and pulled the short dress into place, fastening the shoulder clasps, and girted it securely. She finger combed her hair until it cascaded down her back in a riot of damp black curls. She picked up her mantle.

He decided she was safe. If thieves were about they would have attacked her by now. No roadside ruffian would have restrained himself this long. He could think of no way to make himself known without letting on that he had watched her bathe. Ignoring the ache in his loin that would be a long time in easing, he picked up his pack and bow as quietly as he could.

It was time for him to be on his way to Calydon. With one last look at her, he slipped through the trees without her ever knowing he was there.

**********

Lyra knew he was there. She felt his presence because of who he was and what he was to her. She heard his shallow breathing and heard the clenching of his fingers as he nocked the feathered tip of the arrow. Heard his muscles tighten as he drew back the bowstring. Heard one eye close as he took aim and --

She stepped once to the left and caught the golden arrow in mid-air where it would have struck her in the heart if she hadn't moved.

"Do you want your arrow back?" she called out. When there was no answer she held the arrow aloft. "You can't hide from me, cousin Eros. I'd know your arrow of love anywhere."

From amid a rustle of greenery out stepped a handsome curly haired youth. Strapped on his back was a quiver of golden arrows matching the one Lyra held and a golden bow was held tight in his hands. He grinned at her sheepishly, dimples making him look even younger.

"How did you know I was here?"

"I always know when you're near, cousin dear." Lyra held out the arrow until he reached for it, then snatched it away again. "I'll return your arrow if you promise me you'll never shoot it at me again."

Eros shook his head. "I'm sorry, Lyra, but I gave a promise to someone else. But keep the arrow and with my blessings. Who knows? You may decide to strike your own heart with it."

"Not very likely. You know I have taken a vow of chastity and shall never fall in love, just like Aunt Artemis."

"And neither of you knows what you are missing," Eros said with a sigh.

"I suppose my mother and Aunt Aphrodite put you up to this?" Lyra asked scornfully and threw the arrow down. She didn't want to risk accidentally piercing herself with it.

"Of course. My mother is the goddess of love, after all." Eros retrieved the discarded arrow for later use. It had been made for Lyra and could be used for no other. "She has a hand in all things that concern love."

Lyra threw her mantle over her shoulders and tied it loosely. "I just wish my mother would leave me alone. I am old enough to make my own decisions. I know what I want -- and don't want -- out of life."

"Your mother is mortal," Eros said and shrugged, as if that explained any deficiencies. "And she loves you very much. A mother's love is the strongest love there is. She only wants what is best for you."

"I know. And I love my mother, but I'm tired of her meddling in my life. Come with me to Calydon, Eros. It's not very far. The boar hunt begins tomorrow and all of the best hunters in Hellas will be there. Let's see just how good you are with that bow."

"Sorry, Lyra, I have other things to do."

"Atalanta will be there," Lyra teased knowing her cousin was infatuated with the famous huntress.

"Really?" Eros' face flushed red at the mention of her name.

"We parted ways in Delphi and promised to meet in Calydon for the hunt. Are you sure you don't want to come?"

He shook his head. "I can't, but give my regards to Atalanta. And good luck to you, Lyra."

"Thanks, I'll need it. Besides Atalanta, who is the best huntress I know, Aunt Artemis excluded, Theron will be there. They say he can hit an apple at a hundred paces over his shoulder."

"Can't you do that?"

"Well, yes, but it doesn't count. Theron is mortal and I'm half-immortal." Lyra swung her quiver and pack over her shoulder and hefted her bow. "I'm off to Calydon. I wish you'd change your mind and join us. I'd like to keep an eye on you."

"Take care on the road. There are always thieves about."

"That's the advantage to being half-immortal. I am always protected."

Lyra leapt over a rock and turned to wave at Eros but he had already vanished. She knew she would have to keep an eye out for him. He never had promised he wouldn't shoot her with his arrow.

And that was the disadvantage to being half-immortal. There were always Immortals about, watching her, and telling her parents what she was doing. Her father was Apollo, the god of music and medicine, truth and light, but her mother was a mortal woman, Zeleia, with whom Apollo had fallen deeply in love. Fortunately, Zeleia had returned the feeling and now she resided in Olympus as a demigoddess, by Apollo's side for eternity. Lyra and her twin brother Lycion, who was in Corinth and would miss the Calydonian boar hunt, were their firstborn.

Lyra knew she had broken her mother's heart when she had decided to follow her aunt, Artemis, Apollo's twin sister, and remain chaste and avoid love. Zeleia had tried every way she knew to urge Lyra to change her mind. But Lyra was determined to stay with her decision. She loved the freedom of her life. She could come and go as she pleased. No one, no man, dictated how her life should be led. Just as she was now going to the greatest hunt in all of Hellas, she could pick up tomorrow and go somewhere else if she chose. If she were tied down to a man, he would tell her where to go and what to do. If she had allowed herself to fall in love and wed, she would now be bound to home and family, unable to go off at a moment's notice.

Lyra shook her head. Never! Never would she allow anyone to tell her how to live! Her mother was happy being a wife and mother but she never would. She would never love a man. Never!

**********

It was said to be Lyra's aunt Artemis' fault that the great boar was ravaging the Calydonian countryside. But Lyra found it hard to believe. Mortals often laid fault at the feet of the gods when they could find no other explanation for what occurred. Lyra hadn't had a chance to ask Artemis if she was indeed responsible, but the story in circulation seemed ridiculous: The king of Calydon forgot to make a sacrifice to Artemis and she sent the fire-breathing boar to destroy the kingdom. Lyra knew the Immortals took their sacrifices seriously but she could not imagine Artemis punishing an entire kingdom for the mistake of one man.

Atalanta had promised to meet Lyra at a certain tavern and although Calydon was a fairly large city, she had no trouble finding the place. Upon entering the dark and gloomy establishment, Lyra found herself the object of many stares. She was used to it by now. Not many young women traveled alone and even fewer entered taverns alone. But she was not afraid. Atalanta had taught her that she could do just as she pleased. She peered through the gloom but didn't see her friend anywhere. She was relieved not to find her cousin Eros hiding in a dark corner. He would be lurking about soon enough. She approached the long bar and waited to be served. The proprietor was busy refilling the mugs of other customers for a few minutes, then he began to wipe the top of the bar down with a well-used cloth.

Lyra waited until it was obvious she was being ignored and at last called out, "Excuse me, sir, but I would like a meal."

The man looked at her and smirked. "We don't serve your kind in here unless you're with a 'friend'."

Lyra frowned. She didn't want to be thought a beggar. "I have coin to pay."

"I'm sure you do," he sneered and the male customers seated around the bar laughed with him. "Now, be gone with you and leave the decent folk of Calydon to their simple enjoyments."

Decent folk? Then he thought she was -- Lyra's face blushed crimson when his meaning finally sank in. He thought she was a harlot! Then indignation set in. Who would her 'friend' be except one of the 'decent folk of Calydon'. Oh, how she wished Atalanta were here! With her brazen manner and quick wit, Atalanta would have told him off and gotten them a free meal as well. All Lyra could do was stand there in humiliation and --

"Give the lady what she wants. She's with me."

Lyra whirled to find a man standing behind her. At first all she saw were broad shoulders bulging from a sleeveless tunic tapering to a slim waist and muscled legs accentuated by snug leathern breeches and high rugged boots. Quickly, she looked up and saw he was tall and handsome with shaggy brown locks and intense black eyes. His chin was covered with several days' growth of beard, framing a generous mouth that smiled at her in a friendly fashion. Still, he must think the same thing the proprietor thought of her.

"No, I am not with you. Now if you will excuse me, I'll find another establishment willing to take my coin."

"You'll find none in Calydon unless you have a -- " He cleared his throat and the smile turned into a lopsided smirk. " -- 'friend'."

"Actually, I am waiting for a real friend. And it's not what any of you think. We planned to meet in this tavern. Could I leave word with you for her to meet me elsewhere?"

"Not me. I won't be here long. Now, you can try to find another place that will serve a woman alone, but you won't, not in Calydon. Or you can join me and have a good meal. This really is the best place to eat in the city." He leaned in close enough to kiss her and whispered, "Does it really matter what they think?"

She shook her head. "Very well. I will join you, but I want to make it clear that I am not seeking a 'friend' nor have I ever sought a 'friend'. And I will pay for my own meal."

"Of course. I would have been disappointed if you expected otherwise." He gave her his back and returned to his table.

Exasperated, Lyra had no choice but to follow. If what he said was true, then she might starve in one of the richest kingdoms in Hellas. She sat in a chair across from him and set her things on the floor. The proprietor waddled over to the table and Lyra ordered lamb stew, bread, and watered wine.

He ate as she waited for her food. She was no less beautiful up close than she was from far away. It had taken every ounce of his restraint not to kiss her when he leaned close to her and whispered his question. He had not made the same mistake as the proprietor. He knew a lady when he saw one and he had seen nearly every inch of this lady.

"What brings you to Calydon?" he asked after food was set before her and she had taken a sip of the wine.

"The boar hunt. Prince Meleagar invited the greatest athletes and Heroes to rid the kingdom of a great boar that is ravaging the fields and ruining the crops."

"Heroes?" he snorted and nearly choked on a bite of bread. "Half-bred spawns of the gods!"

Lyra stiffened at his words. She was a half-bred spawn of a god. She opened her mouth to defend her parentage but he wasn't through. "Just because a man claims he is sired by a god doesn't make him a god himself. I've seen too many mortal men fall down and worship a man just because he says he is half-immortal." He quirked an eyebrow at her. "And you are one of the greatest athletes and Heroes?"

"N-No, but Atalanta is. We parted ways a few days ago and I was to meet her here. I expected her to be here by now. She would have made sure we had a meal. Do you live here in Calydon?"

He shook his shaggy head. "I'm here for the boar hunt, too."

"Then you are a great athlete and Hero?" She couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice but he ignored it.

"I am Theron." Lyra's light blue eyes widened in surprise. This was Theron, the greatest hunter in all of Hellas. In her travels with Atalanta she had heard all the stories but they had never chanced to meet him. He was always in another city when word reached them of his exploits. He had rid one city of Harpies, and another of a ravaging pack of wolves, and another of a giant bird who's taloned claws grew back when severed.

"My name is Lyra." And she held her breath.

But he didn't recognize the name. Lyra knew her name and parentage might be known because of her association with Atalanta.

"Are you going to finish your bread?"

She shook her head, pleased with his lack of knowledge about her. Mayhap if he came to know her before he found out she was a daughter of Apollo then he might change his mind about "half-bred spawns of gods". He used her bread to scrape the last of his stew from the bowl and washed it down with the last of his wine. Then he threw a few coins on the table and rose.

"Where are you going?"

His black eyes widened at the question. "To find a room for the night. The hunt doesn't start until tomorrow."

"Yes. Well. Good luck then," she said uneasily. He strapped the quiver of arrows over his shoulder and picked up his bow and pack. She was afraid to be left alone in the tavern and he couldn't blame her after her reception from the proprietor. If trouble started, he wouldn't be any help to her.

"You're welcome to join me. The innkeeper is a friend of mine and will give you a room for the night. I'm afraid you won't find another inn that will. And you can pay your own way."

"I suppose I should take you up on your offer. Atalanta may have been detained and I don't care to go to the palace without her since it was she who received the invitation to the hunt, not I." Lyra stood and gathered her things. "Thank you, Theron."

As soon as they stepped through the door, Theron made a sound deep in his throat, threw his arm around Lyra, and turned them in a different direction. Out of the corner of her eye, Lyra saw her cousin Eros, bow at the ready. Just as they turned, she heard the twang of the bowstring. She saw the flash of a golden arrow.

Theron groaned and with his free hand grabbed his shoulder. When he brought his hand away, it was smeared in blood.

"Are you all right?" she cried out. Eros' arrow had been meant for her. She knew it wouldn't have the effect of making him fall in love, but she didn't know how it might affect him.

"I'm fine. Let's keep moving. I'll explain once we've found a place to hide. I would leave you but you'd have no place to go. And he's seen you with me. If he can't find me, he might take out his revenge on you."

Thoroughly confused, Lyra had no choice but to be rushed through the crowded streets of Calydon, Theron's arm around her forcing her along with him. Had he mistaken Eros for an enemy? If Lyra did explain who Eros was, then she would be forced to tell him who she was. She didn't want him to find that out just yet.

She could feel his warmth and strength through the layers of her clothing. Once when she was very small, on a dare from her twin Lycion, she had touched one of Grandfather Zeus' lightning bolts. The shock had knocked her off her feet, but it was nothing compared to the lightning that shot through her body from the arm that surrounded her protectively. Mayhap this was what her mother had been trying to tell her all along.

Theron led them through a maze of streets until he came to an alleyway that was deserted. They moved into the deepest afternoon shadows and only then did he remove his arm.

Immediately Lyra looked at his wound. The arrow had barely scratched the skin but it bled freely. She tore off a length of material from her chiton and held it to staunch the flow. This close she could smell his maleness, a pleasant mix of human musk, fresh air, and dust of the road. She had never been this close to a man before. She had chosen to follow Artemis blindly, never giving the other way a chance. Had she done so out of fear of the unknown?

"I will take you to the palace myself and explain. Meleagar will let you stay."

"I'm sure he would. But I'm not going anywhere until you explain to me why we've run through half the streets of Calydon."

"Later. He won't be far behind us. The man has an uncanny knack for hitting his target. I'll take you to the palace then I'll leave Calydon. I have no urge to kill the man, and the boar hunt can go on without me."

"Without us. I'm coming with you, Theron. We'd have to go back through the city to get to the palace. That might be too dangerous. I'll go with you."

Theron looked down into her eyes and Lyra felt something she had never felt before. There was no arrow piercing her heart, but there didn't have to be. Theron took her hand away from his wounded shoulder and gathered her into his arms. He pressed his lips against hers and she felt them warm and wonderful amid the scratch of his beard. The tip of his tongue found hers and a shiver coursed through her body. How could she have ever thought to live her entire life without this experience? Their lips parted and his hand ran through her black curls and his mouth nuzzled her cheek and brow. "I've wanted to do that all day." Before the cryptic remark could reach her shattered mind, he broke from her and peered around the corner. "I see him at the far end of the street. Let's go."

He held her hand and they ran as fast as they could in the darkening evening. By twilight they were outside the city and deep into the woods. By dusk they had reached a moonless glade and Theron had built a fire.

They sat side by side, wrapped in their mantles against the chill of the night. Theron watched her. He had tried to wrap her in his arms but she had pulled away from him and she seemed troubled. Did she regret coming with him, on the run from an unknown enemy? Did she wish now she had gone on to the safety of the palace and waited for her friend? He wanted to take her into his arms and wipe out all bad thoughts and replace them with memories of him. But she was as unreachable now as she had been by the pool.

Lyra stared into the fire and felt Theron's eyes on her. She needed to tell him that Eros was after her, not him. That he was only her cousin, an Immortal, and he was trying to shoot her with his arrow of love so that she would fall in love and make her mother happy. To tell him this meant she had to tell him that she was the daughter of a god, a half- bred spawn of a god. Then he would not want to kiss her again or hold her or do anything else with her. Unshed tears stung her eyes. She didn't want to tell him but he had to know the truth before anything else happened between them.

Theron moved closer and cleared his throat. If she was worried about the man after them, then the least he could do was explain.

"Years ago in Argos, I entered an archery contest. The man after us today was in the contest also. There were scores of others in the contest but in the end it came down to the two of us. I forget his name but he was very good with the bow. We shot a dozen times, each of us making a bullseye. Until the last shot. He missed by less than an inch but I made the eye. He was upset, said something about a goddess had nudged his elbow at the last moment. Everyone thought he was making excuses and we ignored him. By the gods, I never thought he would come after me, especially ten years later."

"He's not after you, Theron," Lyra murmured.

"What? You can't mean he's after you."

She nodded. "He is my cousin and his name is Eros."

"Eros? But that means he's the -- "

"Yes, he's the god of love. He was trying to shoot me with one of his golden arrows. Oh, is your wound all right? The arrow was meant for me. I'm so glad it did you no harm. And don't worry. It won't make you fall in love. It only works on the person it was made for."

Theron caught her arms and turned her to face him. By firelight, her eyes shone with tears. "What are you saying, Lyra?"

"I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner. I am Lyra, the daughter of Apollo and his mortal wife Zeleia. I am one of those half-bred spawns of gods you detest." She covered her face with her hands and wept, finally understanding why it hurt so much for him to think so little of her.

"Lyra, Lyra. Don't cry, beloved. Do you remember what I said?" He raised her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Do you remember exactly what I said? Just because a man claims he was sired by a god doesn't make him a god. Lyra, beloved, I have traveled far and wide and in every city there are a dozen men who claim to be sons of gods. They claim to be Heroes and have never done a heroic thing in their lives. They expect to be treated like gods. They want to be served and given presents and paid to attend events. I despise these men who don't know how to do an honest day's work. They make their living off the poor people who believe their false claims. Oh, Lyra, Lyra, I could never detest you. I think I loved you from the first moment I saw you." Later, he would tell her about how he watched her bathe in the pool but now all he did was hold her as she dried her tears.

He called her beloved and it was the sweetest word she had ever heard. When had she started to love him? Was it the moment she turned around to find him standing behind her with his black eyes looking into hers? She thought that must have been it. She wiped the tears away and looked up into his eyes again. What she felt could not be measured and certainly could not have come from an arrow, even a golden arrow of love.

"I love you, too," she murmured and slipped her arms around his neck, pressing her lips against his. The kiss and his arms around her caused the lightning to surge through her once more. Suddenly, she wanted a husband and a home and a family to care for. She didn't want to travel the countryside alone and lost. This was what she had been searching for all along and didn't know it.

Theron heard the rustle in the brush at the same moment Lyra did. His arms tightened around her, ready to protect her, but Lyra laughed. She heard the straining of his muscle, heard the bowstring tauten, and his eyelid close. Moving aside, she caught the golden arrow in mid-air just where her heart would have been. Then she tossed the arrow back from where it came.

"Go away, cousin; your arrow isn't needed here."

They heard his laughter in the woods and waited until it faded away. They now had the privacy they desired for the long night ahead.










More Greek Myth Fantasy Romance!

Excerpt and available for purchase:
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Excerpts:
Immortal Ecstasy
Immortal Favors
Immortal Rapture
Immortal Conquest
Immortal Surrender

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