Shooting an arrow into a crowd of people on the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro is highly illegal.
Good thing I:
A) don’t care, and
B) can’t be seen.
I look at my target, a twenty-six-year-old beach rat who spends more time playing volleyball than he does even on his perfect hair. Then I glance past the vendors selling camarão and água de coco for potential matches.
Gaia, I hate this job.
Beach Rat is running his hands through his hair, wearing his speedo, like most of the Brazilians I see, and leering at the bikini-clad women who pass him. I’ve read the report on him: he was abandoned when he was six years old, and he was destined for life in the poorest favelas of Rio, begging, conning, and stealing to survive. Yet, somehow, mercifully, he was found only a few weeks later by his estranged grandparents. They took him in and raised him in a humble but loving home.
All of my assignments have stories like this. Olympus doesn’t get involved in run-of-the-mill relationship problems. Only exceptional and difficult cases require divine intervention: the ones whose hearts have been damaged and who can’t allow themselves to find real love because of their fears and personal demons. With a scope of billions of people covering most of the Western World, that means the Erote department is big and busy.
Beach Rat has had a string of one-night stands that is as long as the Copacabana shoreline, but he hates himself for it. When he gave a silent, desperate prayer for help one night last week, the job was processed by the Erote department and sent to a probie—me—because evidently the match is a simple enough one. For, you know, an exceptional and difficult case.
As if there is such a thing.
Months ago, I had a Thunderclap. The Thunderclap. The moment when everything became clear. Since then, I seem to be the only immortal on Olympus to see the truth behind matching. The reality is that I could spend days or weeks studying Beach Rat and the people around him. I could invest my heart and soul in his happiness—I could soulgaze, for Gaia’s sake—and it would still all be for nothing. Because in the end, the Fates will decide what happens, no matter what I do.
I rub my stinging nose, swallow the lump in my throat, and turn back to my assignment. I’ve been here for an hour already, far longer than I need. It’s time to match this cara.
Girl after girl passes him. He’s a very attractive mortal, so the less-than-beautiful don’t get a single glance. Seeing this, I know exactly what I’m going to do.
A pale, mousy girl in a dowdy one-piece walks by, and she looks at him longingly. Perfect.
I grab the bronze necklace I’m wearing over my bikini and pinch the arrow charm. My beautiful recurve bow twinkles into existence in my hands. I reach for my quiver and snag an arrow with a shimmering head—the mark of an Erote arrow—and nock it in one fluid motion.
The myths say that it takes two arrows to make a match, one arrow into both of your targets. Wrong. Of course, those same myths show my kind as chubby, cherubic, obnoxious, diaper-clad babies named “Cupid,” because evidently the Romans weren’t satisfied with causing the fall of Ancient Greece, they also had to steal and bastardize an entire pantheon of gods for their use, and . . . and . . .
Don’t get me started on the Romans.
I have Beach Rat in my sights, waiting for him to make eye contact with the girl. If he isn’t making eye contact with her at the precise moment of the arrow strike, he’ll be matched with someone—or something—else. There’s a reason Erotes spend twenty hours a week at the archery range: timing is everything.
And he’s taking a lot of my time. If he would just look at her, already!
Ah, Styx. I’m going to have to suggest this.
I close my eyes and whisper to him with my mind to look at her. Suggesting isn’t my strong suit. My dad says I’m too closed off for it, which is the same reason I can’t communicate telepathically the way most fifth-years can. But don’t underestimate how badly I want to get this job done and get back to Flagstaff for my other match.
Wait, where did that thought come from?
Concentrate, Kali. I put an image of the girl into my head and push it into Beach Rat’s cluttered mind.
I fight through the sea of bikinis and workouts-of-the-day littering his mind until my suggestion clicks. My eyes fly open and I focus hard on Beach Rat. His eyebrows lift, and for a moment, I think he’s going to make a rude comment to the girl, who glances away when his eyes meet hers.
Come on, he’s finally looking at you. Look back at him. Look!
And she does!
Their eyes connect. I release my nocked arrow. It whizzes past tourists and vendors and sinks right into Beach Rat’s heart. Slowly, the cocky grin on his face melts away, replaced by a look of reverence and devotion. A quick glance shows her wearing the same smile. They walk through the crowds to each other, and I have to steel myself to keep from getting sucked into the scene.
He thrusts out a hand and introduces himself. “Oi, meu nome é João.”
She grins and speaks slowly and loudly. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese. I’m Lana. I’m here with my parents.” She points to a couple standing at a nearby booth, buying coconuts to drink.
So, obviously I don’t care what happens. I don’t. Unfortunately, my rapidly dropping stomach doesn’t quite believe me. Because it just keeps getting worse.
This girl? She’s here on vacation from North Dakota for her birthday.
Her fifteenth birthday.
Ferry me to Hades.
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