Authors: Annie Reed
Love Stinks, Inc.
Copyright © 2014 by Annie Reed
Published by Thunder Valley Press
Cover and Layout copyright © 2014 Thunder Valley Press
Cover design by Thunder Valley Press
Cover art copyright © brickrena/Bigstock.com
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Dyte glared at the black cat perched on the center of her desk. It couldn’t stare back at her since it was just one of the many wildly successful plush toys her company produced, but that didn’t stop her from hating its adorable little guts.
The cat held a puffy red heart in its front paws. The universal
Don’t Do This
symbol, a circle with a slash through the center, was printed on the red satin fabric along with the stylized logo for Dyte’s company—Love Stinks, Inc
The plush cat was part of this year’s line of stuffed animals meant to appeal to chronically unattached women (and chronically unattached men confident enough in their masculinity to buy themselves a stuffed toy). Given her company’s more than healthy bottom line, the world contained about a bazillion single people who didn’t mind dishing out $9.95 for a fuzzy toy to cuddle with on Valentine’s Day just to make themselves feel better about being alone.
Just like Dyte was alone.
She leaned forward, planted her elbows on the smooth surface of her desk, and rested her chin in her hands so she could gaze at the cat at something approximating its eye level.
“What’s your secret?” she muttered at the cat. “Why do people love you so much?”
She should be happy the toys were so successful. A significant amount of her company’s research and development budget had gone into determining a perfect size for the plush toys (big enough to cuddle but not so big they would give a real cat or dog or skunk a run for its money), the length and thickness of their fake black fur (somewhere between shorthair and Persian, when measured in feline terms), and the color of their over-sized eyes (a washed out blue somewhat darker than the noontime sky uncluttered by clouds but not as deep as the clear blue of a high mountain lake). That still didn’t the ridiculous popularity of the things. Even the skunks.
At least the toys weren’t spelled. She’d put her foot down (metaphorically speaking) at the mere suggestion, even though both R & D and her sales department had lobbied long and hard for inclusion of a compulsion spell—a “minor” one, they had assured her—in the stuffing inside the red satin heart all the plush toys held.
As far as she was concerned, customers would either buy her company’s products because they wanted to, or they wouldn’t. The last thing she wanted to do was compel people to fall in love with a stuffed toy.
Compelling people to fall in love was her dad’s thing, not hers. It was hard enough to be taken seriously in business when you were the immortal daughter of Cupid and Psyche, and you had a ridiculous name like Dyte because your mom thought it would be a nice tribute to name you after your grandmother.
Like Aphrodite had ever given one whit about her granddaughter.
Which was fine with Dyte. From the stories she’d heard, grandmother had a vindictive streak a mile wide, just like a lot of the old gods in the family tree. Even though Dyte was an immortal like her parents, she was glad to stay off grandmother’s radar.
If only she’d managed to keep her private life off her dad’s radar.
Dad…Cupid…Eros…whatever you wanted to call him…might be the official God of Love, but he had more power than just the ability to make people fall in love when he hit them with one of his arrows (which weren’t real arrows, thank Zeus, but bolts of spelled energy shaped like arrows that he shot from a bow made of energy). He could do a lot of different things with his arrows. Lust. Love. Unquenchable desire. Single-minded compulsion. And the opposite of all those feelings: hatred; disgust; rancor; enmity.
He didn’t even have to use his bad arrows. He just had to make the threat.
He’d done exactly that to her first real boyfriend, a handsome mortal boy Dyte had fallen in love with. Dad didn’t think any mortal was good enough for his little girl, never mind that her mom had been a mortal once upon a time and Dad had fallen in love with
A threat from the God of Love had been enough to scare Christopher away. Brokenhearted, Dyte had thrown a tantrum like only an immortal could, then she’d run away.
But before she’d left, she’d tried to ruin her dad’s company.
Out of spite.
Which, she supposed, only proved that she really was Aphrodite’s granddaughter after all.
But it had been so easy! Eros International, a subsidiary of CupidCo., Inc., produced the bulk of the Valentine’s Day products that made their way to store shelves throughout the world. Her dad had put Dyte in charge of Eros International because he said she had a better head for business than anyone else in the family.
And she did.
She also knew how to run a company into the ground. She’d made sure the chocolates in all those heart-shaped Valentine’s boxes Eros sold had been spelled to taste bad, and the stuffing in the cutesy stuffed toys spelled to smell like real skunks. She’d misprinted the Valentine’s Day cards headed for gift shops, and doubled the amount of spicy seasoning in the Valentine’s Day red-hots.
Stores around the globe had returned the (purposefully) defective products in droves to her dad’s company. The returns were accompanied by strident demands for reimbursement of the full purchase price, and orders for new products ceased.
By the time the detectives her dad had hired finally found her, she’d nearly succeeded in driving Eros International right out of business.
Then she’d come up with a better way to get even with her dad: start a company of her own whose sole purpose would be to compete with all the Valentine’s Day stuff that carried her dad’s image.
And thus Love Stinks, Inc.,
had been born.
It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Her dad made a ridiculous amount of money licensing his image for all sorts of Valentine’s Day products. She hadn’t been around back in the days when mortals worshipped statues of the old gods (in god-time, she was just barely out of her teens), but her mother had told Dyte that licensing his image for profit was about as close as her dad could get to the good old days of tithes and offerings and willing virgins.
Dyte didn’t know about tithes and offerings, and she certainly didn’t have any experience with willing virgins, but she liked the idea of creating an anti-Valentine’s Day business to produce products for people like her who didn’t have anyone to sped Valentine’s Day with. Building the company from the ground up made her feel good. The fact that her company was making enough money now that the old gods had started to take her seriously, almost like an equal instead of just her dad’s daughter, felt really good.
Or at least it had.
Now she felt like a fraud.
Because she didn’t hate Valentine’s Day, not really. Except for the stupid image of baby Cupid holding a cute little bow and arrow that was printed on almost everything Valentine’s Day related (her dad looked nothing like a baby, and he wouldn’t be caught dead in a diaper), Dyte had always liked the fact that a whole day every year was devoted to love.
Love was grand. Love was glorious. Being loved had made her feel special and important, even more important than being immortal, because for once in her life it hadn’t mattered what she was. She’d been loved for
She missed that.
She wanted it so much at times that her heart ached.
And thanks to her success, she’d never get it again.
Hermes himself had delivered the missive.
Just that morning the H Man, as he called himself these days, had breezed into her office on the tenth floor of Anti-Love Central, as her employees referred to the Love Stinks
office building smack dab in the middle of the City Center district of Moretown Bay. He didn’t have an appointment, which flustered Dyte’s assistant Stewart more than usual, but little things like a lack of appointment never stopped Hermes.
Especially when he had a delivery from the Z Man.
“I can’t believe he lets you call him that,” Dyte had said.
Hermes just grinned at her while he paced back and forth in front of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the calm waters of Moretown Bay, twirling his staff as he walked. The two snakes twined around the staff looked like they were about to get sick.
For once, there’d been no morning fog, and the view from her office was spectacular. She could see the top of the Ferris wheel down by the waterfront, a huge thing that rose nearly seventeen stories tall, complete with closed-in gondolas instead of bucket seats so that the rainy weather so typical of the city couldn’t shut it down. She’d never been for a ride on the Ferris wheel, but every time she saw the wheel from her office window, she could almost taste cotton candy and hot buttered popcorn and feel the stomach-dropping sensation of riding the huge wheel.
That was the stuff of dates, and Dyte didn’t go on dates. That didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the idea of a date on the Ferris wheel.
She sighed and turned back to her unexpected visitor.
She’d had a crush on Hermes when she’d been little. Like, really little. He was incredibly gorgeous, incredibly fit, and had enough charisma in his little finger to give her dad’s arrows a run for their money in the
compelling willing virgins to give up their virginity
Dyte’s adoration of Hermes had dimmed as she grew up and realized just how callous he could be, but he was still one of the most beautiful of the gods. Plus, he really knew how to dress. Today he looked like a cross between a metrosexual rapper and bodybuilding athlete, what with the white linen trousers and form-fitting V-necked silk tee that showed off his washboard abs, the white tennis shoes with little wings on the back, and a long white coat made out of what Dyte hoped was fake fur. She was pretty sure the rings on his fingers were real gold.
“If they throw up,” she said, pointing at the snakes twined around his staff, “you’re dealing with it.”
He grinned at her, but he brought the staff to a standstill. “You’re stalling.”
The envelope Hermes had delivered looked like any other manila envelope except for the wax seal.
A rich, ruby red, the wax bore the mark of Zeus, and she could feel the energy the seal created. The envelope bore her name—her
name (Dyte, daughter of Eros, daughter of Psyche, granddaughter of Aphrodite, and on and on). If anyone else tried to open it—say a curious messenger god whose snakes were about to puke on her slate gray carpet—Zeus would know about it.
He’d also know once she broke the seal and opened the envelope. Talk about your ultimate return receipt.
Only she didn’t want to know what was inside. Missives from Zeus were never a good thing, and so far, she’d managed to slip beneath
radar. Even her little spat with her dad hadn’t caught Zeus’s attention.