Psyche stood alone on the beach, trembling with fear and cold. She had been left as the priest of Apollo commanded, wearing nothing but a red linen shawl and a golden necklace. As the waves crashed onto the sand, she stared at the ocean and waited for the monster to come for her.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she clutched the shawl in her fists, but the thin fabric offered little protection from the wind or her thoughts. The people in her city by the sea had lined the streets to watch the procession, weeping as she walked by with her father and mother and all of their retainers. The little girls had thrown rose petals for her to tread upon and the women had wailed as if they were going to her funeral. Yet it was their adoration that had brought her here.
The oracle had not said if the monster would devour her or keep her for ill-use. Psyche tried to convince herself that dying did not frighten her. Then, at least, she would descend to Hades as a shade and drink from the River Lethe, her sorrow and suffering done. There was very little in her life she wanted to remember.
Suddenly the sand beneath her shifted. The smell of roses and sea spray surrounded her. Psyche felt the presence of an immortal—an essence of pleasure, expectation, and yearning. Making an effort not to gape, she gazed up at the Goddess of Love and Beauty.
One and a half times the size of a mortal woman, Venus towered above Psyche. The goddess’s gown was fashioned from dark blue silk and seaweed. The rippled kelp was interwoven with the shimmering fabric, adorned with pearls and seashells, and threaded with pure gold.
Venus was more dazzling than any mortal woman could hope to be, more gorgeous than a man could dream of. Her skin was pure white, like seafoam sparkling in the sun, her lips red and full. Her fair hair, gathered into a complicated bun, glittered as if made of real gold. When the goddess gazed down on the girl, Psyche felt as if she were the only one in the world—until a flash of burning hatred radiated from Venus’s eyes—how the goddess detested her!
Psyche knelt and let go of the red shawl, which was taken by the wind. It flew high in the sky, soaring like a bird. Looking down in supplication, her eyes rested on the goddess’s feet. Delicate and fine, the most perfect feet in the world. The nails were clear and even, polished like seashells. The ankles trim and the calves full and strong. She dared not look any higher.
Venus lifted Psyche’s chin, raising her face to inspect her. The girl was almost blinded by the goddess’s beauty though later she could not recall exactly what she had seen—only that the goddess’s eyes were blue and angry like the sea. Yet Venus’s hand, strong and firm, holding her jaw, made her skin begin to hum with vibrations of pleasure.
Venus pulled Psyche up off her knees and stared down at her with disdain. Psyche’s long, golden hair had come undone in the wind and flew behind her. It was shameful for the Goddess of Love and Beauty to see her so disheveled. Venus gathered Psyche’s hair into her hand and wrapped it around her wrist twice, pulling until Psyche bit her lip.
“Beautiful,” Venus said. Her voice, even icy with hatred, was like a song. “They all think you’re so beautiful. But you’re just a little mouse, waiting for a lion.”
The goddess cupped the mortal’s plump breast in her hand. Psyche’s heart pounded in fear, yet the goddess’s touch on her hardened nipple brought a bolt of pleasure.
“You expected to marry a prince, little Psyche. But soon a monster will come for you. It will be his claw on your breast.” Venus smiled then, a wicked smile. She ran her hand down the girl’s slight belly. Pausing at her pubis, the goddess fingered the honey-colored hair.
“Upon his life, your father swore you are a virgin,” the goddess said, opening Psyche with her fingers. The cold wind on her exposed flesh made her shiver as the goddess examined her slowly. Vibrations of pleasure coursed through her with the goddess’s touch. Psyche dared not pull away as she felt herself moisten with desire as the goddess explored every crevice. Venus’s essence overcame Psyche, and she almost swooned with longing as the goddess laughed and slid a finger inside.
Shuddering, Psyche looked into the brilliance of the goddess’s eyes until the finger inside her brought a burrowing pain.
“Yes,” Venus said. “You will be a worthy sacrifice. Perhaps the monster will take your virginity before he devours you.” Venus laughed, releasing Psyche’s hair. The girl fell back to the sand on her knees, bereft by the lack of the goddess’s touch and terrified by her words.
Tears came to Psyche’s eyes. She had not known pleasure until a moment ago. She had not known what it was to be alive until she was about to die. When she dared to look up, the goddess had vanished.
Now the monster would rise up from the sea, or perhaps he would come from the sky and swoop down on her. Clasped in his talons, he would carry her away to his cave, a cold, dark place strewn with the bones of the girls he had had before. The wind roared in her ears. She wiped away her tears and sensed another presence on the beach. He was here for her.
But when she turned toward the rushing waves, she did not see a monster. Instead a beautiful winged man, dark-haired and golden-eyed, gazed at her with curiosity. He was bare-chested, wearing only a silver breechcloth. His muscular legs were tan from the sun, and he held a golden bow in his right hand. She could see the golden and leaden arrows peeking out of the leather quiver on his back, gold for love and lead for hatred. The silhouette of his dark-brown wings was folded against his back. Fearing she had stared at him too openly, she cast her gaze down in fear and saw that his feet were beautiful like his mother’s.
The God of Love approached her quickly, a hunter overtaking his prey, but he did not take aim at her with his bow. Instead he slid it over his shoulder, so the bow-string crossed the leather strap of his quiver. Taking her hands, he pulled her close and spread his wings. She stared in awe at the beauty of the feathers, at the span of his wings. Gathering her to him, he pressed her against his chest and began to lift off the ground.
As the sand fell away from her, she struggled against him. In a panic to feel the earth slip away from her feet, she clung to him for her life. Terror of being airborne gripped her. Fearing he would pitch her into the sea, she held fast to him, clinging with all her might. But as the wild blue waves grew smaller, she realized his touch was gentle. Her fear turned to wonder. She was flying!
The blue sea was getting farther and farther away. Above the gray mist of the beach, the sky was blue and the sun warmed her. The wind did not chill her anymore, but felt good against her skin. The sea below, the sky around her, the god who held her; everything was suddenly magnificent.
She became aware of her heart pounding against the hardened muscles of his chest, her pale breasts flush against his bare skin. His embrace warmed her and she stopped trembling.
But as she looked down and saw only his sandaled feet and legs below her, she realized, to her horror, she had grabbed onto him with her legs like a frightened child. Without realizing, she had pressed the most secret part of herself into him. She could feel the moisture of her sex rubbing against his taut abdomen just above his breechcloth. She should let go, should right herself and beg his forgiveness, but she was still terrified he would drop her.
A smile played around his pink lips. His right arm cradled her mid-back, while his left hand cupped her buttock. He removed his arm from her back for a moment and she clung to him more tightly, the softness of her thighs clinging to his hipbones. He squeezed her buttock, supporting her there and kneading the flesh, pushing her harder against him. His touch caused some of the vibrations of pleasure the goddess had given her. Only she did not think it was because he was a god.
She stared into his golden eyes, lost there—unable to look away, for she felt a sensation unlike any she had ever known. Despite already being airborne, as he gazed at her, she felt even lighter, as if her heart and soul were weightless. As she stared deep into the blackness of his pupils, she felt he was made of air, the only air she wanted to breathe.
Suddenly she was no longer willing to die. She wanted to live only to see those eyes. To see herself reflected back in his gaze.
“Please,” she said, before even realizing she was speaking.
He smirked with amused patience as he supported her from below. She pressed against him harder and felt the joy of her flesh against his—her erect nipples against his muscular chest, her arms around his broad back, the leather strap of his quiver and the slight string of his bow the only thing between them. He lifted a finger to his lips, requiring her silence and, as he did so, she realized the ocean was gone and they were over land.
She did not want to let go, to be surrendered to her fate. Yet there was no other way. She knew that. But she would not have agreed to die had she known there was this. He put his arm back around her and locked his eyes with hers. It was pure pleasure for a moment, all the more dear for being fleeting. He started to descend. Looking down, she saw that they were above a mountain, inaccessible except by air. She held tight, full of yearning he would not permit her to speak.
He fluttered to the ground softly, but she felt as if she was still moving even when his feet touched the grass. Clutching him, she buried her face in the valley between his neck and shoulder. He stood still, waiting, no longer holding her tightly.
When she did not move, he lifted her off him as if she weighed nothing. She stepped tentatively upon the soft grass and almost fell, but he grasped her hand and steadied her. The moisture she had left on his abdomen glistened in the sun. She should be mortified, yet she was not. She longed to make him glisten in other places as well.
It was unclear what she was meant to do next. Perhaps go on her knees before him in gratitude and awe, or perhaps he would lead her to the altar. If he held the knife, she would not fight if he looked into her eyes while he did it. They gazed at each other a moment—two separate beings, one immortal, the other waiting to die for the crime of being too beautiful.
But he looked away from her, up into the heavens where he would return. He had only come to deliver her to the monster. Now he would leave her to her fate. She eyed his bow, wondering if he would shoot her first. He could be merciful and shoot her with a gold-tipped arrow, so she would love the monster. If he did, she would have a piece of him inside her. But no, he was the son of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, the one who hated her. He could give her no mercy with his mother’s blessing. It was more likely he would shoot her so she would love the monster’s servant or a tree or rabbit. The goddess would like that. But if he did that, at least she would forget about him, for she thought even if he pierced her with a gold-tipped arrow, and he was the first one she saw, she would not love him more than she already did.
But he did not reach for his bow, did not pull an arrow from his quiver. Instead his wings began to flutter, causing a gentle wind to engulf them both. She reached for him, and he took her hand and pulled it to his lips, kissing the palm tenderly. Then he let her go and rose off the ground. Tears came and she bit her lip to keep silent. She did not want him to remember her, if he remembered her at all, as a coward.
His open wings glistened in the sun as he ascended into the sky. He watched her staring up at him in silence. Perhaps there was pity on his face, but she could not be sure. Then he faded to a speck, and she fell to the soft earth, weeping.
End of Excerpt