Over 700 hundred years running and chasing Heath and Simone have finally found each other again only to discover their ill-fated love affair was much, much more complex that they were lead to believe.
Simone, a tavern and inn keep's daughter, was over the moon to be asked to marry the wealthiest landowner's son--farmer, militia, a man among boys. But before they could be married the angry raiders from the south swooped into town telling Simone she could leave with their leader or watch everything and everyone burn to the ground.
What they didn't tell her was their leader was no average man but one who had severely angered the Fates.
Will everyone get their just desserts in Paths Chosen?
Zeus locked his strong but impotent hands behind his back, anxious his emotions would show. Now was not the time to allow the appearance of any weakness. He was angry, furious. Hera was a jealous woman and wanted his attentions focused solely on her alone. He knew that. At different times he’d reveled in that knowledge, any man would. But by the gods, he was not just any man. He was Zeus, God of all gods, and she’d played him, twisting and turning and confounding his thoughts. It pained his heart he’d already spoken, in private, giving his blasted word. He squared his shoulders. He had to be precise. His strong pectorals flexed, rippling his abdomen. Pulling his core in tight.
Zeus carefully moved around the celebratory table, walking slowly, taking in the revelry, the show, the grandeur. Hera cared not for the mortals. At any given turn, if it suited her whim, she plotted and schemed against them. Yet the mortals had found a special place in Zeus’ heart. His daughters would protect them. They would watch out for them. His daughters would see that the mortals lived full lives, however long or short they be.
Zeus clapped his hands for silence. “Today, we celebrate the harvest. The mortals have done well and brought in the best of the best in their offerings. Nothing meager here.” A beautiful golden goblet encrusted with all form of jewels, splashed with ambrosia was passed to his hand,
Shouts and cheers rose around the table.
Zeus again silenced them. It has been decreed that mortals live out their existences on Earth. There they love, live, and die. To see that this is the guided route of their lives, I offer you, three of my beloved daughters from Themis, as the Fates.” Complete silence fell as his beautiful daughters rose. “As your mother, you are renowned in the heavens for your unflinching dedication to loyalty and justice. Not mine, or that of any deity but rather beyond us to universal truths and rights. When I flash hot, you remain cool. Important skills in fair rule.”
His daughters nodded in unison.
Oh, how he wished he did not have to do this, but he would protect his daughters’ lives with all he had. Once they were free of Olympus, Hera would do her best to destroy them and the mortals. He could not let that happen.
“Lachesis, step forward.” His youngest did as she was bade, looking neither to her right nor to her left. “You have always shown wisdom in balance. You will choose which elements enter into the mortal lives. You will pick the yarns that make up a life. Good, bad, hostility, loyalty, even love. You will pick it all.”
All the gods, runners, demis crowded around the celebratory feasting table in Olympus erupted in cheers. “And the word is law.”
“Clothos, step forward.” The young woman, the middle Moirai, did as she was bid. “You are a skillful weaver, the most talented in all the heavens. You see beauty in everything. Where one choice alone may seem so wrong, it is you who sees where that choice will lead. I trust in you to weave the elements into the tapestry that is the mortal life.”
“And the word is law.”
“Atropos, step forward.”
His eldest daughter remained where she was, neither with her sisters nor apart. Just standing, staring straight ahead, and waiting.
At her defiance, Zeus took a deep breath. “Daughter, you will determine the lengths of these yarns. It will be your decision how much of each element is woven into the mortal life. With your shears, you will either extend or cut short, the luck, the love, the sadness, joy, and ultimately, the heaviest burden of all, the mortal experience in totality, individual and life spans will end with your shears.”
“And the word—”
Before the crowd could declare the law, Attie opened her mouth to interrupt but Clothos beat her to it. They exchanged a knowing look. Clothos cocked her head to the side and asked, “Is our word final, Father?”
“The word is law,” responded Zeus. “Not even I can undo what the Fates decide.”
Attie no longer held her tongue. “And to those who take issue with our decision making skills?”
“Though you’ll never again live in Olympus, as my daughters, and as the Moirai, you have my protection. My personal protection.” He slammed the golden goblet down on the table.
“And the word is law,” came the resounding reply.
He checked his Rolex. Four-twenty-seven p.m. He’d seen her every day at approximately four thirty. Weekends, too. Regular as Swiss clockwork, she stopped outside of his quaint yet well-respected little shop of antiquities, but never came in. She stood out there in the biting New England winter, grasping her coat tightly around her lithe body, jaw set at a defiant yet proud angle. Her wild blond curls shoved up under a different cap—every day a different cap—looking. Always looking.
The view afforded him from behind his antiqued cherry wood desk caught the hazy afternoon glare blinding him in the way only a December day after a fresh snow can. He frowned, blinked, and shoved his chair back. The Persian rug muted the action, but he steadied the chair with his left hand, just to make sure… He moved slowly so as to not draw attention to his movements. It was a foolhardy gesture, really. With the sun reflecting off the tinted glass and her attention squared on the box, she wouldn’t realize a living soul watched her. Still, he took care. He was too close now to frighten her. Many years he’d chased her – gotten close too. Until he’d given up, exhausted. Now here she was at his door.
Behind the jewelry display, he stopped and pulled up a hand-tooled stool. This is better. He rested his chin in his palms and stared out at her, drawn by her beauty, entranced by her spirit. Familiar chemistry tightened in his stomach, balling it into a fixed knot. His mouth grew dry. His heart pounded. Every day his body physically reacted to her nearness just as it had since the day he lost her so very long ago.
Albert Einstein once said, The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results.
Heath muttered to himself, “No truer words…”
She had to know he was there. She had to know it was his store. She had to feel him too. That was why he couldn’t send her bolting away like a skittish colt. Not this time. Never again.
He was exhausted. There was no more wily ways to trap her. No more time or bright ideas. It didn’t matter. He licked his lips. She was there. Close enough to see, but not to touch. His palms itched with knowing. When he closed his eyes, on days like today, he’d swear he could feel the satin smoothness of her skin. He’d breathe in the crisp air and catch the faintest whisper of wild roses, hay; however, just as quickly it was gone. He rubbed his temple. If she knew he was there, then maybe that was how she needed it to remain…at least, for now.
For now it was enough.
Light refracted off the different cuts of crystal and jewelry in the display window casting the room in an iridescent shadow of rainbow. Brilliant and surreal. Beautiful and false. He gave a low, humorless laugh. It seemed so apropos for his life.
His heart stopped. His laughter abruptly ceased.
It was like a movie, one of the very first done in Technicolor, the ones where the heroine’s lipstick is a luscious shade of red. The red of fully ripened strawberries. The red of a brand new ‘64 ‘Vette. The gray clouds swirled around her, the white snow, all neutral shades that enhanced rather than shielded her brilliance.
She pulled her coat tighter. It was long. Looked to Heath like it might have been a man’s coat. It didn’t fit her, but somehow she made it feel like home. But that had always been his Simone. She made everything right. Even when life had gone so terribly wrong.
Yes, just like a movie. She was there and real, yet unattainable and perfect, just the other side of his window display.
How did she find me? Why now? Immediately, he dismissed the questions that had been plaguing him for the last month. It didn’t matter. Something about her had changed. She had come to him. His heartbeat tripped. Years. He’d searched for her for years. He’d catch her trail, and then she’d disappear. He’d feel her, feel close to her, but before he could make contact she’d take off like a bird in frightened flight. Her fragile wings spread; she’d soared away from him. Away from his love.
Seven hundred and fifty years of chasing that dangling carrot before he’d stopped.
The same thing every day. He’d felt like a pet hamster, running the wheel, so he’d stopped. He’d distanced himself, grown ingrained in new customs, new ways. He’d tried desperately to move beyond the past. Never had he truly succeeded, but much like his business, he put on a good show. And he and the business had prospered through all the ups and downs, the wars and occupations. They lasted. It was his business that brought her back to him.
He knew what she came to see, to look at: a small handcrafted jewelry box. Gold encrusted, real gold, mind you, not paint. He ran a reputable antique shop, after all. It wasn’t a pawn haven or a knockoff outlet. No. Never that. He had a unique appreciation for all things old, being one himself. He looked for each piece he brokered with loving care and due diligence. His customers deserved the best. But this piece was not for sale. It never had been. Not since he’d gotten ahold of it again.
The jewelry box he’d found at an estate auction in Germany, not far from its original home. He’d had the piece authenticated to the early fourteenth century, but it was unnecessary. He knew every twist and turn the blacksmith had made. He knew every jewel, every scratch. It came from the area near the Black Forrest. Tiny rubies and sapphires created a design on the top. It looked almost tribal. He knew it down to the last detail. He should, he’d designed it.
The piece was headed for the auction block when he’d finally located it again. The estate planner said that the family had miraculously managed to hold on to the piece through both World Wars, only to be lost to the ravages of illness.
His parents had kept it all those years, protected it, passed it down through the many generations. They’d seen to his one solid joy.
The estate planner said she believed there was family in the States, but no one had been able to track them down. She expressed her happiness to hear that he had the same family name. She said it made her feel less guilty selling the heirloom.
He’d placed a sealed bid for the rare and delightful box, offering much more than it was worth to most people. Then again, he wasn’t most people. He knew the estate planner cut him a deal on duties, but it didn’t matter. He would’ve paid any price to get the jewelry box back into his possession.
Heath gazed out the shop window. This was his last hope. He’d tried everything else he could think of. Nothing had worked. The box was their last shared memory. It had to work. He’d chided himself for raising his hopes. But he had to. He had to do something different, or give up completely, living an empty and unfulfilled life. He couldn’t do that, so he reasoned he needed the box to draw her. It had worked.
Every day she came.
Every day, she stood for five minutes, no matter the weather, entranced by the little box.
“You really should go talk to her, instead of sitting there droolin’ on the counter, Heath. It’s pathetic.”
He cocked a brow, but didn’t shift his attention. “I don’t want to frighten her. I’ve searched so long.”
“Oh, and leering at her is best? I can’t believe you’ve succeeded in business with a mind like this.” Brigit had worked for him for five years. She was more family than employee now. Her warm, loving nature made him feel like a part of her massive Irish clan. Brigit had become like an aunt. A bizarre aunt. The one you only saw on holiday. The one you loved so much her eccentricities didn’t even matter, mostly.
He wished he could tell her the whole truth of the situation and Simone, but he couldn’t. All Brigit and her family knew was that he had a love from his youth. A woman who meant everything to him. A woman from the old country. They knew that and that he had pursued her and hoped to, one day, rekindle the flame.
“If she wanted conversation, Brigit, or to even purchase the box, she’d come in here herself. I must be careful. This is a delicate situation.”
“Yer chicken! That’s what you are.”
“Am not.” He pushed back from the counter and turned toward his accuser.
“Heathcliff Michael Denton, don’t ya dare lie to me. I know more about you than you know about yourself, young man. And I can’t believe my own ears. All this time. All this hunting and searching and yet you sit on your duff and watch her.”
He leaned back on the stool and examined Brigit. Her whole demeanor said she truly believed she knew more than he did. Oh, the joys of certainty. She thought she knew, but she didn’t. She didn’t really know a blessed thing. He cocked a brow at her use of his full name and her rarely used temper, but refused to rise to her bait. Resting his chin back in his palms, he leaned on the counter. “Sooner or later she’ll come in.” Then in more of a whisper added, “She just has to.”
Brigit dropped her dusting cloth and wedged her hands on her narrow hips. “And just how many sales are ya going to refuse before that happens?”
“It doesn’t matter. I always have something else they need.”
“Oouch! It doesn’t matter, he says.”
“Brigit, I already told you. It’s not for sale anyway.”
“Then why have it in the window?”
“It brings customers into the store. Once inside, they’re hooked. And don’t give me that look. I always have something else they need, or I know how to get it for them. You know I’m right. It might take a little time, but I have it taken care of.”
“You can’t pass up on sales. No one can afford to do that forever, and forever is where you’re heading sitting here, your chin in hand, watching her through the window. If it’s just a box, sell it. Make some money. You can have another one made or find a new one for your pleasure. Heath, this obsession without action, it isn’t healthy.”
“The box is not for sale. Drop it, Brigit.”
She shook her head, her corkscrew curls popped free of the loosely clasped barrette. “You talk like you’re made of money. This little adventure you’re on called life, it takes funding, Heath. Christmas is just around the corner, you know?”
“I have never failed to pay you your bonus.”
“I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about you and this way of life you’re leadin’.”
He let her ramble. Interrupting wouldn’t help. She was set in her ways. She could work herself into quite a storm if he fed the fire. He didn’t even glance in her direction; he’d already spoken his piece. So instead, he watched the woman through the window. Finally, when there was a lull in her lecture, he said. “It’s fine.”
“It’s fine, he says.” Brigit stomped off still mumbling something just under her breath.
In his extended lifetime, Heath had managed to set himself up quite well. Through some small investments and a hidden treasure or two he’d tucked away, he’d done well over the years. The sale or non-sale of one scratched jewelry box would not make or break him, but scaring her away might. He couldn’t take it anymore.
She looked up.
His breath caught. It was the first time in years he’d been close enough to see her eyes. The same. Beautiful. Haunted. Timeless. A shade of blue nearly as deep as the sapphires encrusted on the small box.
Slowly, he pulled in vital oxygen. Remembering a spring morning in the early thirteen eighties, Heath had made a special trip to the Trader’s Market. He rarely went himself, always sending envoys for they knew the best prices and vendors, but not on this day. He had carefully hand-selected each and every gem. The sapphires for faithfulness and loyalty. Their color to match her eyes and the two qualities he prayed for in a wife. The rubies represented undying love. His to her. He’d traded several precious amethysts, family heirlooms, for the stones. But the gold, the gold was from his own property.
Heath knew better. His Father had warned him to never ever tell anyone about the gold. “Greed weighs heavily on even good men’s’ shoulders,” he’d say. But Heath had been foolish, thinking himself wise. He thought he could be cunning. He could keep his mouth shut on the origins of the gold. Should there be inquiries, he could say he’d traded amethysts for the bit of gold. Heathcliff also used this very argument against his father when his father demanded Heath not break tradition, that he should not be the one at the vile Trader’s Market. “People will know something is afoot. And once mouths begin to wag, there is no controlling content.” Heath had playfully dismissed his father’s wisdom.
If only he had not been so proud, so arrogant. The years had come and gone, but the pain of betrayal still stung deep. The prices everyone had paid for his hardened heart and youthful folly.
Just looking at Simone now he knew the terrible price she had paid for his vanity in preparing her wedding gift. By all the gods, he wished he could take it back. He wished for so many things. Even if he had to be cursed for his arrogance, he wished she had been happy. The sag of her shoulders told him she wasn’t. She blinked, darker eyelashes than one expected from a blond framed them, turning the corners of her eyes up at an exotic angle.
His elation plummeted.
Tears. There were tears in her eyes…just like the last time he’d seen them. Eight centuries could not erase that gut-wrenching pain he’d felt then at seeing them in her eyes. If anything, it had magnified, sanctified, and immortalized their last meeting. Her tears, her pain, her terror were frozen pictures in his mind. He couldn’t do anything about it then, not that he’d thought he could anyway. But this time, maybe this time he could dry her tears.
Health jumped off the stool, grabbed his wool jacket and charged through the door.