Uninspired Muse (Mt. Olympus Employment Agency: Muse Book 3), page 1
T his book is a work of fiction. All names, places, and characters are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any way whatsoever without the written permission of the author, except as brief quotations .
E dited by Sara E. Lundberg
Cover design by Yocla Designs
P ublished by Bottle Cap Publishing
Copyright © 2017 R.L. Naquin
All rights reserved .
For Sara ,
who doesn’t yet realize how awesome she is .
Someday she will, and she’ll wonder why
we never got around to making her our queen .
We’re just waiting on you , Sara .
I’ll even let you wear my tiara .
A Note from Rachel
About the Author
Also by R.L. Naquin
R unning into an ex was always awkward, but running into a dead ex in Underworld Life Evaluation Court made me want to swear off dating forever—especially since I’d been assigned jury duty .
Technically, I belonged upstairs to the Mt. Olympus Employment Agency. I’d started out up there, then made a few mistakes that landed me in the Underworld on probation for a short stint. But that was behind me, and now I was kicking ass as a Muse. I’d finally found my calling .
All that was great and should have kept me out of Underworld jury duty—except that my mother and stepfather were king and queen of the Underworld. I had a bedroom in their mansion, which I occasionally slept in. This, apparently, qualified as Underworld residency. Tricky bastards .
So, there I was. Judging the lives of the newly deceased when I was just getting the hang of my own life. On the bright side, I wasn’t dead .
The proceedings were nothing like I’d expected them to be. There was neither a defense nor a prosecuting attorney, and the judge, King Minos—who preferred to be called Alvin—was there to guide the proceedings and tally the votes of the jury. He stood behind a tall desk that was attached to a treadmill. He occasionally asked people to repeat themselves when he picked up speed and the sound of his pounding sneakers drowned them out .
Next to him stood a podium with a microphone that currently wasn’t working. When the thirteen of us had arrived for jury duty, the tech guy had been working on the sound system, and he never did get it to work. We filed in and sat in a row of red velvet folding seats that appeared to have been taken from a movie theater .
The cup holders were handy, at least .
Once we were settled, the bailiff, a chubby blonde with hazel eyes and a large mouth, opened the door to the endless queue of souls. The bailiff’s name was Etta. I couldn’t forget it, because she’d shaken hands and introduced herself to each of us on our way in, then did the same with every single soul coming in to be judged .
The first to come forward was a man in his mid-forties. He admitted to having cheated on his taxes, smoking a little pot in his teens, and lying to his wife about working late so he could play poker instead of take the kids to Cub Scout meetings. He’d also shoveled snow from his elderly neighbor’s driveway every winter for a decade, had given money to charity on a regular basis, and taught his children the most important trait for them to exhibit in their lives was kindness to others .
He wasn’t a peon of virtue, but he was still a good man. We voted unanimously to send him to Asphodel where he would spend time recording his memories before they were wiped from him to prepare for rebirth back into the human world .
Next was a woman who ran a non-profit cat shelter. At first glance, that should have been enough to send her to the Elysian Fields for a predetermined amount of time to reward her for her generous spirit. After a little prying, we learned she’d been selling a large percentage of the strays to a drug-testing facility .
The vote was eight to five. Etta escorted the woman out and sent her on her way to do time in Tartarus .
I thought I had the hang of this judging souls thing until Scott walked in .
Holy crap, Scott was dead. Also, holy crap, I so didn’t want to rehash an ancient breakup in front of all those strangers. I whipped my head around, checking for exits from the row of seats I was in, but there was no way out. I was stuck in the center. Any attempt to sneak away would draw the attention of the entire courtroom. My palms felt sweaty, and I shrank in my seat, hoping he wouldn’t notice me .
Etta led Scott to the podium. “The mic doesn’t work, hun, so you’ll have to speak up. Alvin’s about to do a sprint .”
Scott’s pale skin might have been a result of being dead, but he was in a borrowed Underworld body made to resemble the original—since his own was likely in a mortuary somewhere—so I thought nerves was the more likely cause .
Alvin cleared his throat and peered at Scott over a pile of papers. “It says here you cheated on a math quiz in seventh grade. Is this true ?”
Scott’s eyes grew wide. “Yes, sir.” His voice was small and shaky .
“You’ll have to speak up, my boy .”
Scott swallowed hard. “Yes. Yes , sir .”
“Hmm.” Alvin’s head bobbed a little as he picked up speed. The pages in his hand bobbed with him. “And you volunteered at a nursing home when you were seventeen .”
Scott nodded. “My aunt worked there. I helped her with the music program .”
Except that he’d had no choice. He’d been caught spray painting the outside of the high school gym and had to do community service. I’d dated him the year before that, and always counted myself lucky for having parted ways before he launched himself into a downward spiral. By our senior year, he was playing around with some serious drugs, both taking them and selling them. He was running with a scary crowd. There were rumors that he’d robbed a convenience store, but never got caught .
Dating him had been one of my poorer choices .
I shifted in my seat, a knot forming in my stomach. I was not an appropriate choice to judge this guy. I knew too much—but I also didn’t know enough. I hadn’t seen him in five years. He could have turned his entire life around since then. I had no idea who he was when he died .
I waved at Etta to come over. She smiled and waved back .
“No!” I tried to use a quiet whisper, but it came out louder than intended. “Come over here .”
Alvin broke off in the middle of a sentence and eyed me over his treadmill desk. “Something the matter, Miss Greene ?”
I cleared my throat and hoped my cheeks weren’t as pink as they felt. “Well, yes. Sort of .”
Now that I was the unintentional center of attention, Scott noticed me sitting in the juror section .
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Wynter ?”
I groaned. “That.” I held my hand out in Scott’s direction. “I used to date him. I don’t think
Alvin gasped and clasped his hands together. “This is most unusual.” He pressed a button and the bobbing of his head slowed. “We don’t often have witnesses present. Step forward, Miss Greene. The court would have a word .”
“Oh, I don’t think I could be much help. I haven’t seen him for years. I don’t know anything about him , now .”
Alvin looked down his nose over his bifocals and crooked a finger at me to draw me forward. “Young lady, I believe I’m the judge, not you. Step up to the stand, please .”
I set my coffee in the cup holder and stood on wobbly legs. What had I been thinking? I should have stayed quiet .
When I reached the podium where Scott stood, he gave me a shy smile and stepped aside to give me room. I smoothed my sweaty palms over my pencil skirt and took a deep, calming breath .
“Miss Greene, you said you’re familiar with this soul. Can you elaborate?” Alvin adjusted his glasses and rested his chin on his fist .
I glanced at Scott, then back at the judge. “It was a long time ago. We dated a little in high school .”
Scott snorted behind me, and I swung around to face him .
He held his hands up in self-defense. “Sorry. But we did more than ‘date a little .’”
I folded my arms across my chest and ignored him. “We weren’t together long, sir. But I knew him all through high school. I don’t believe I should be allowed to vote .”
Alvin stared at me for a moment, then gave Scott his attention. “How long were you together ?”
“A couple of months.” Scott stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans, hunching his shoulders. “At the time, I thought we’d end up married someday .”
I groaned. “ Not true .”
The judge continued to ignore me. “What gave you that impression ?”
Scott shrugged. “She did. She always stopped at the jewelry stores when we went to the mall. She had rings picked out and everything .”
“Is that why you broke up with her? She was moving too fast for you ?”
I rolled my eyes .
“No, sir. She broke up with me.” His gaze dropped to his shoelaces, and he stared at them as if they might untie themselves if he didn’t pay close attention. “One minute we were talking about what to name our future kids, the next, she dumped me.” He paused and glanced past me to the judge. “I never understood why .”
Alvin’s voice was gentle. “Sounds like it was pretty hard for you. Broken hearts are hard to heal. Is that when you took up with those boys who got you into trouble ?”
Scott nodded. “It wasn’t smart. I know .”
I wanted to yell “Objection, your honor!” but my throat constricted, and I couldn’t form any words. Was Scott playing the judge for sympathy? I remembered things differently. The breakup had been mutual—or at least not this version of soul-withering disregard on my part .
Alvin turned his attention back to me. “You remember it differently ?”
I swallowed hard, trying to get my voice to come out as more than a squeak. I squeaked anyway. “Yes, sir. I think. I don’t know. It was a long time ago.” I frowned at Scott. “You should have told me .”
His lips formed a shy smile. “Would it have changed anything ?”
“ Well , no .”
He put an arm across my shoulders. “It’s okay, Wynter. I turned things around again later. I spent the last two years working with at-risk teenagers. I wouldn’t have been able to help them if I hadn’t been there myself .”
Well, great. I crushed his heart and sent him pinwheeling into a life of juvenile delinquency, but don’t worry, because it made him uniquely qualified to help others with similar problems .
Alvin hit a button, and the treadmill got louder. His head bobbed faster. “I’ve heard enough.” He banged a gavel on his desk. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, please cast your votes.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Including you, missy. Please return to your seat .”
Scott removed his arm from around my shoulders. “It was good to see you again.” He grinned. “Even if I had to die to do it .”
The jury voted unanimously against sending him to Tartarus for punishment. I couldn’t argue. I’d been the one to turn him into a criminal, so I was relieved he wouldn’t be tortured for it .
Scott stopped in front of me on his way out the door to Asphodel. “Hey, if I’m going to be here awhile, do you want to grab lunch or coffee or something sometime ?”
I opened my mouth to say no, but every pair of eyes in the room bore down on me. The air was so filled with their expectation, it was hard to breathe .
“Uh, sure. I guess.” I flailed around for a moment, trying to think how he could get ahold of me without my actually giving him my cellphone number. “Call the main office here in the Underworld and leave a message. They’ll know where to find me .”
He grinned. “Great. I look forward to it .”
“Yeah. Great.” I forced a smile. “Let me know when you get settled in .”
He walked out with a bounce to his step he hadn’t had when he’d entered .
Judging by the way everyone was looking at me, I was a monster, and I probably shouldn’t ever date again .
To be honest, I didn’t much want to .
O nce jury duty was over, I bolted from the building and hopped into my personalized golf cart to head back to the main office building—and the elevator out of the Underworld. I checked the time and sighed .
I couldn’t leave yet. If I left, my mom and my stepdad would be disappointed I didn’t stop by. And Otis and Lita would be disappointed they didn’t get to feed me .
Besides. I needed to have a heart to heart with Mom. The ordeal with Scott had shattered my self-image .
I turned the cart around and drove to the mansion. Having my own personal golf cart—cherry red with silver trim—was one of the perks of being the daughter of the queen of the Underworld. If I’d been a different sort of person, I might have moved into the mansion and let them spoil me, but I had my own life to live. Still, the golf cart was both handy and adorable .
I pulled into the circular driveway, plugged in my cart, and strode through the heavy wooden door. The two women were all over me the minute I stepped inside .
“Wynter! Otis will be thrilled. He made fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy, hoping you’d come home tonight.” Lita’s long arms darted out, and she took my coat and purse, then hung them on the coatrack by the door. “I’ll go tell him to set you a place at the table .”
Mom stood smiling at me as the tall, skinny figure disappeared into the next room. “Did you have a good day ?”
Everyone said I looked so much like my mother, but it wasn’t entirely true. I wasn’t a goddess. I was only a blonde, blue-eyed girl with a decent figure and a spiky pixie haircut. My mother was Persephone, goddess of spring, queen of the Underworld, wife of Hades .
Growing up, I’d thought she was prettier than other people’s mothers. Who didn’t think that about their mother? But I’d also thought she was human. She’d had days when she was tired and her eyes were red or had dark smudges beneath them. She’d catch the occasional cold or get the flu and her nose would be raw and her skin pale .
But that had been in the human world where she wasn’t able to eat ambrosia, the food of the gods .
Now that she was back in the realms of the gods, she was radiant. I doubted it would be possible for her to get sick. She was a goddess here, and next to her, I was still me. But with her, that was all I needed to be .
“It was a weird day. Can we talk alone? I think…I think I have a problem .”
Her expression softened, and she took my hand. “Of course, sweetheart.” She tugged me with her toward a life-sized painting of Hades on horseback chasing a stag in the woods. Mom touched the gilded frame and the painting swung out, revealing a lack of wall. We stepped through and reappeared upstairs in her bedroom, emerging from the bathroom .
“Weird.” I let go of her hand and dropped onto her bed. “I didn’t know about that one .”
She sat on the bed facing me and drew her legs under her. “I think everybody forgot about it. Lita usually uses the one in the fireplace because it goes to the kitchen .”
I nodded. “That’s the one she showed me .”
She reached forward and put her hand on my leg. “So, what’s the problem, my love ?”
I took a deep breath to gather my thoughts, then let it out. “Am I a horrible monster ?”
She blinked . “What ?”
“I had a lot of boyfriends growing up, but they never lasted long .”
She shrugged. “About two months. That seemed to be your limit .”
I couldn’t believe she knew that. “Do you remember Scott from high school ?”
She narrowed her eyes in thought. “Kind of short, but liked to play basketball? Brown hair, blue eyes ?”
“Yeah. Him. Do you remember why we broke up ?”
Mom tilted her head to the side and squeezed my knee. “Yes. Do you ?”
“We both decided it wasn’t working out and we should go our separate ways .”
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “That’s how you remember it , huh ?”
“So, it wasn’t like that.” My shoulders slumped .
“No, honey.” She patted my leg. “You dumped him and wouldn’t take his calls. He came over a few times after that. I talked with him, but I don’t think it helped much .”
“Why don’t I remember that ?”
“It’s how it always was.” She gave me a sympathetic smile .
I shivered. “So, he wasn’t the only one .”
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