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Very good spicy book. 4/5 recommend
Very good spicy book. 4/5 recommend
08 June 2021 (02:35)
Excited to read this one!
11 June 2021 (02:24)
Love this book so much
14 June 2021 (05:03)
Does it cost $1 to read this?
01 July 2021 (18:34)
honestly i fucking love hades and persophene so much!!!
19 July 2021 (20:34)
the smut was good but the plotline not really
16 August 2021 (04:33)
Itsss amazing book.. A very different concept and i loved it. Five star
02 September 2021 (20:21)
It was sooo good, but I wished the 2nd book „Electric Idol“ would be available too..
03 September 2021 (15:38)
Great read. I actually loved the plot & super excited to read the next one! Spicy af so be prepared
09 September 2021 (11:19)
5 for me. good book.
18 September 2021 (13:27)
It's just as bad as some wattpad novel written by a 15 year old back in 2013. I'm sorry.
24 September 2021 (06:54)
Thank you for downloading this Sourcebooks eBook! You are just one click away from… • Being the first to hear about author happenings • VIP deals and steals • Exclusive giveaways • Free bonus content • Early access to interactive activities • Sneak peeks at our newest titles Happy reading! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP Books. Change. Lives. Copyright © 2021 by Katee Robert Cover and internal design © 2021 by Sourcebooks Cover design by Dawn Adams/Sourcebooks Cover image © Alexxxey/Shutterstock Internal images © Julia Dreams/Creative Market, etse1112/Getty Images, GreenTana/Getty Images, LokFung/Getty Images, Roberto Scandola/Getty Images, Vectors Market/Noun Project, Vectorstall, PK/Noun Project Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks is not associated with any product or vendor in this book. Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410 (630) 961-3900 sourcebooks.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the publisher. Contents Front Cover Title Page Copyright Map of Olympus Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 ; Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Epilogue Excerpt from Electric Idol Acknowledgments About the Author Back Cover To Erin and Melody—your podcast has brought me so much joy over the last few years, and I hope Hades’s boastful floors give you a little joy in return. Chapter 1 Persephone “I really hate these parties.” “Don’t let Mother hear you say that.” I glance over my shoulder at Psyche. “You hate them, too.” I’ve lost count of the number of events our mother has dragged us to over the years. She’s always got her eye on the next prize, on the newest piece to move in this chess game only she knows the rules to. It might be easier to stomach if most days I didn’t feel like one of her pawns. Psyche comes to stand next to me and bumps me with her shoulder. “I knew I’d find you here.” “It’s the only room in this place I can stand.” Even though the statue room is the very essence of hubris. It’s a relatively plain space—if shining marble floors and tasteful gray walls can be called plain—filled with thirteen full-body statues arranged in a loose circle around the room. One for each member of the Thirteen, the group that rules Olympus. I name them off silently as my gaze skips over each one—Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Athena, Ares, Dionysus, Hermes, Artemis, Apollo, Hephaestus, Aphrodite—before turning back to face the final statue. This one is covered in a black cloth that pours over it, spilling down to pool on the floor at its feet. Even still, it’s impossible to miss the wide-set shoulders, the spiky crown that adorns his head. My fingers itch to grab the fabric and rip it away so I can finally see his features once and for all. Hades. In a few short months, I’ll have won my freedom from this city, will have escaped, never to return. I won’t have another chance to look on the face of Olympus’s boogeyman. “Isn’t it weird that they never replaced him?” Psyche snorts. “How many times have we had this conversation?” “Come on. You know it’s weird. They’re the Thirteen, but really they’re only twelve. There’s no Hades. There hasn’t been for a very long time.” Hades, the ruler of the lower city. Or at least he used to be. It’s a legacy title, and the entire family has long since died out. Now, the lower city is technically under Zeus’s reign like the rest of us, but from what I hear, he doesn’t ever set foot on that side of the river. Crossing the River Styx is difficult for the same reason leaving Olympus is difficult; from what I hear, each step through the barrier creates a sensation like your head will explode. No one voluntarily experiences something like that. Not even Zeus. Especially when I doubt the people in the lower city will kiss his ass the same way everyone in the upper city does. All that discomfort and no payoff? It’s no surprise Zeus avoids the crossing just like the rest of us. “Hades is the only one who never spent time in the upper city. It makes me think he was different from the rest of them.” “He wasn’t,” Psyche says flatly. “It’s easy to pretend when he’s dead and the title no longer exists. But every one of the Thirteen is the same, even our mother.” She’s right—I know she’s right—but I can’t help the fantasy. I reach up but stop before my fingers make contact with the statue’s face. It’s just morbid curiosity that draws me to this dead legacy, and that’s not worth the trouble I’d be in if I gave in to the temptation to snatch the dark veil away. I let my hand drop. “What’s Mother up to tonight?” “I don’t know.” She sighs. “I wish Callisto were here. She, at least, gives Mother pause.” My three sisters and I all found different ways to adapt when our mother became Demeter and we were thrust into the shining world that exists only for the Thirteen. It’s so sparkling and extravagant that it’s almost enough to distract from the poison at its core. It was adapt or drown. I force myself to act the part of the bright and sparkly daughter who is always obedient, which allows Psyche to play it cool and quiet as she flies under the radar. Eurydice clings to every bit of life and excitement she can find with a borderline desperation. Callisto? Callisto fights Mother with a ferocity that belongs in the arena. She will break before she bends, and as a result, Mother exempts her from these mandatory events. “It’s better that she’s not. If Zeus makes a pass at Callisto, she might try to gut him. Then we’d truly have an incident on our hands.” The only person in Olympus who murders without consequence—allegedly—is Zeus himself. The rest of us are expected to uphold the laws. Psyche shudders. “Has he tried anything with you?” “No.” I shake my head, still looking at Hades’s statue. No, Zeus hasn’t touched me, but at the last couple of events we’ve attended, I could feel his gaze following me around the room. It’s the reason I attempted to beg off tonight, though my mother all but dragged me out the door behind her. Nothing good comes from gaining Zeus’s attention. It always ends the same—the women broken and Zeus walking away without so much as a bad headline to tarnish his reputation. There was exactly one set of charges officially leveled against him a few years ago, and it was such a circus that the woman disappeared before the case ever went to trial. The most optimistic outcome is that she somehow found a way out of Olympus; the more realistic is that Zeus added her to his alleged body count. No, better to avoid him at every turn. Something that would be significantly easier to do if my mother weren’t one of the Thirteen. The sound of heels clicking smartly against the marble floors has my heartbeat picking up in recognition. Mother always strides like she’s marching into battle. For a moment, I honestly consider hiding behind the covered statue of Hades, but I discard the idea before Mother appears in the doorway to the statue gallery. Hiding would only delay the inevitable. “There you are.” Tonight she’s wearing a deep-green gown that skims her body and feeds into the whole earth-mother role she’s decided best fits her branding as the woman who ensures the city doesn’t go hungry. She likes the people to see the kind smile and helping hand and ignore the way she will happily mow down anyone who tries to stand in the way of her ambition. She pauses in front of the statue of her namesake, Demeter. The statue is generously curved and wearing a flowing dress that melds with the flowers springing up at her feet. They match the floral wreath circling her head, and she smiles serenely as if she knows all the secrets of the universe. I’ve caught my mother practicing that exact expression. Mother’s lips curve, but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes as she turns to us. “You’re supposed to be mingling.” “I have a headache.” The same excuse I used to try to get out of attending tonight. “Psyche was just checking on me.” “Mm-hmm.” Mother shakes her head. “You two are becoming as hopeless as your sisters.” If I realized that being hopeless was the surest way to avoid Mother’s meddling, I would have gone with that role instead of the one I chose. It’s too late to change my path now, but the headache I faked is becoming a real possibility at the thought of going back to the party. “I’m going to cut out early. I think this might evolve into a migraine.” “You most definitely are not.” She says it pleasantly enough, but there is steel in her tone. “Zeus wants to speak to you. There’s absolutely no reason to make him wait.” I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head, but I know Mother won’t listen to a single one. Still, I can’t help but try. “You know, he’s rumored to have killed all three of his wives.” “It’s certainly less messy than a divorce.” I blink. I honestly can’t tell if she’s joking or not. “Mother…” “Oh, relax. You’re so tense. Trust me, girls. I know best.” My mother is likely the smartest person I know, but her goals are not my goals. There’s no easy way out of this, though, so I obediently fall into step next to Psyche and follow her out of the room. For a moment, I imagine I can feel the intensity of Hades’s statue staring at my back, but it’s pure fantasy. Hades is a dead title. Even if he wasn’t, my sister is probably right; he’d be just as bad as the rest of them. We leave the statue room and walk down the long hallway leading back to the party. It’s like everything else in Dodona Tower—large and excessive and expensive. The hallway is easily twice as wide as it needs to be, and each door we pass is at least a foot taller than normal. Deep-red curtains hang from the ceiling to the floor and are pulled back on either side of the doors—an extra touch of extravagance that the space most certainly didn’t need. It gives the impression of walking through a palace rather than the skyscraper that towers over the upper city. As if anyone is in danger of forgetting that Zeus has styled himself as a modern-day king. I’m honestly surprised he doesn’t walk around with a crown that matches his statue’s. The banquet room is more of the same. It’s a massive, sprawling space with one wall completely taken up with windows and a few glass doors leading out to the balcony that overlooks the city. We’re on the top floor of the tower, and the view is truly outstanding. From this point, a person can see a good portion of the upper city and the winding swath of blackness that is the River Styx. And on the other side? The lower city. It doesn’t look all that different from the upper city up here, but it might as well be on the moon for all that most of us can reach it. Tonight, the balcony doors are closed tight to avoid anyone being inconvenienced by the icy winter wind. Instead of the view of the city, the darkness behind the glass has become a distorted mirror of the room. Everyone is dressed to the nines, a rainbow of designer gowns and tuxes, flashes of horribly expensive jewels and finery. They create a sickening kaleidoscope as people move through the crowd, mingling and networking and dripping beautiful poison from painted-red lips. It reminds me of a fun-house mirror. Nothing in the reflection is quite what it seems, for all its supposed beauty. Around the remaining three walls are giant portraits of the twelve active members of the Thirteen. They’re oil paintings, a tradition that goes back to the beginning of Olympus. As if the Thirteen really do think they’re like the monarchs of old. The artist certainly took some liberties with a few of them. The younger version of Ares, in particular, looks nothing like the man himself. Age changes a person, but his jaw was never that square, nor his shoulders that broad. That artist also depicted him with a giant broadsword in his hand, when I know for a fact this Ares won his position by submission in the arena—not in war. But then, I suppose that doesn’t make for as majestic an image. It takes a certain kind of person to gossip and mingle and backstab while their likeness stares down at them, but the Thirteen is filled with monsters like that. Mother cuts through the crowd, perfectly at ease with all the other sharks. With nearly ten years serving as Demeter, she’s one of the newest members of the Thirteen, but she’s taken to moving in these circles like she was born to it instead of elected by the people the same way Demeters always are. The crowd parts for her, and I can feel eyes on us as we follow her into the brightly colored mix. These people might resemble peacocks with the way they go the extra mile for these events, but to a person, their eyes are cold and merciless. I have no friends in this room—only people who seek to use me as a stepping stool to claw their way to more power. A lesson I learned early and harshly. Two people move out of my mother’s way, and I catch a glimpse of the corner of the room I do my best to avoid when I’m here. It houses an honest-to-gods throne, a gaudy thing made of gold and silver and copper. The sturdy legs curve up to armrests and the back of the throne flares out to give the impression of a thundercloud. As dangerous and electric as its owner, and he wants to be sure no one ever forgets it. Zeus. If Olympus is ruled by the Thirteen, the Thirteen are ruled by Zeus. It’s a legacy role, one passed from parent to child, the bloodline stretching back to the first founding of the city. Our current Zeus has held his position for decades, ever since he took over at thirty. He’s somewhere north of sixty now. I suppose he’s attractive enough if one likes big barrel-chested white men with great boisterous laughs and beards gone winter gray. He makes my skin crawl. Every time he looks at me with those faded blue eyes, I feel like I’m an animal at auction. Less than an animal, really. A pretty vase, or perhaps a statue. Something to be owned. If a pretty vase is broken, it’s easy enough to purchase a replacement. At least it is if you’re Zeus. Mother slows down, forcing Psyche back a few steps, and takes my hand. She squeezes hard enough to convey her silent warning to behave, but she’s all smiles for him. “Look who I found!” Zeus holds out his hand, and there’s nothing to do but place mine in his and allow him to kiss my knuckles. His lips brush my skin for the barest moment, and the small hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I have to fight not to wipe the back of my hand on my dress when he finally releases me. Every instinct I have is screaming that I’m in danger. I have to plant my feet to prevent myself from turning and running. I wouldn’t make it far anyway. Not with my mother standing in the way. Not with the glittering crowd of people watching this little scene play out like vultures scenting blood on the wind. There’s nothing this lot loves more than drama, and making a scene with Demeter and Zeus will result in consequences I don’t want to deal with. At best, it will anger my mother. At worse, I run the risk of being a headline in the gossip mags, and that will land me in even more hot water. Better to just ride this out until I can escape. Zeus’s smile is a touch too warm. “Persephone. You look lovely tonight.” My heart beats like a bird trying to escape its cage. “Thank you,” I murmur. I have to calm down, to smooth my emotions out. Zeus has a reputation as the kind of man who enjoys the distress of anyone weaker than he is. I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he scares me. It’s the only power I have in this situation, and I refuse to relinquish it. He moves closer, edging into my personal space, and lowers his voice. “It’s good to finally have a chance to speak with you. I’ve been trying to corner you for the last few months.” He smiles, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “It’s enough to make me think you’re avoiding me.” “Of course not.” I can’t edge back without bumping into my mother…but I put several seconds of serious consideration into that option before discarding it. Mother will never forgive me if I make a scene before the all-powerful Zeus. Ride it out. You can do this. I dredge up a bright smile even as I begin chanting the mantra that’s gotten me through the last year. Three months. Just ninety days between me and freedom. Ninety days until I can access my trust fund and use it to get out of Olympus. I can survive this. I will survive this. Zeus practically beams at me, all warm sincerity. “I know this isn’t the most conventional approach, but it’s time to make the announcement.” I blink. “Announcement?” “Yes, Persephone.” My mother edges in close, shooting daggers from her eyes. “The announcement.” She’s trying to beam some knowledge directly into my brain, but I have no idea what’s going on. Zeus reclaims my hand and my mother practically shoves me after him as he starts for the front of the room. I shoot a wild look at my sister, but Psyche is just as wide-eyed as I feel right now. What’s going on? People fall silent as we pass, their gazes a thousand needles against the back of my neck. I have no friends in this room. Mother would say it’s my own fault for not networking the way she’s instructed me to time and time again. I tried. Really, I did. It took all of a month to realize that the cruelest insults come with sweet smiles and honeyed words. After the first lunch invitation resulted in my misquoted words being splashed across the gossip headlines, I gave up. I will never play the game as well as the vipers in this room. I hate the false fronts and slippery insults and knives hidden in words and smiles. I want a normal life, but that’s the one thing that’s impossible with a mother in the Thirteen. At least, it’s impossible in Olympus. Zeus stops at the front of the room and snags a champagne glass. It looks absurd in his large hand, like he’ll shatter it with one rough touch. He raises the glass and the last few murmurs in the room fade away. Zeus grins at them. It’s easy to see how he holds such devotion despite the rumors that circulate about him. The man practically has charisma oozing from his pores. “Friends, I haven’t been completely honest with you.” “That’s a first,” someone says from the back of the room, sending a wave of faint laughter through the space. Zeus laughs along with them. “While we are technically here to vote on the new trade agreements with Sabine Valley, I also have a little announcement to make. It’s long past time for me to find a new Hera and make our number complete again. I’ve finally chosen.” He looks at me, and it’s the only warning I get before he speaks the words that light my dreams of freedom on fire so completely I can only watch them burn to ash. “Persephone Dimitriou, will you marry me?” I can’t breathe. His presence has sucked up all the air in the room, and the lights flare too bright. I teeter on my heels, only keeping my feet through sheer force of will. Will the others fall on me like a pack of wolves if I collapse now? I don’t know, and because I don’t know, I have to stay standing. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My mother presses into me from the other side, all bright smiles and joyful tones. “Of course she will! She’ll be honored to.” Her elbow digs into my side. “Isn’t that right?” Saying no isn’t an option. This is Zeus, king in everything but name. He gets what he wants when he wants it, and if I humiliate him right now in front of the most powerful people in Olympus, he’ll make my entire family pay. I swallow hard. “Yes.” A cheer goes up, the sound making me dizzy. I catch sight of someone recording this with their phone and know without a shadow of a doubt that it will be all over the internet within an hour, on all the news stations by morning. People come forward to congratulate us—really, to congratulate Zeus—and through it all he keeps his tight grip on my hand. I stare at the faces that move in a blur, a tidal wave of hate rising in me. These people don’t care about me. I know that, of course. I’ve known that since my first interaction with them, since the moment we ascended to this vaulted social circle by virtue of my mother’s new position. But this is a whole different level. We all know the rumors about Zeus. All of us. He’s gone through three Heras—three wives—in his time leading the Thirteen. Three dead wives, now. If I let this man put his ring on my finger, I might as well let him put a collar and leash on me, too. I will never be my own person, will never be anything but an extension of him until he grows tired of me, too, and replaces that collar with a coffin. I will never be free of Olympus. Not until he dies and the title passes to his oldest child. That could be years. It could be decades. And that’s making the outrageous assumption that I’ll outlive him instead of ending six feet under like the rest of the Heras. Frankly, I don’t like my odds. Chapter 2 Persephone The party continues around me, but I can’t focus on anything. Faces blur, colors meld together, the sound of gushing compliments are static in my ears. A scream is building in my chest, a sound of loss too big for my body, but I can’t let it escape. If I start shrieking, I’m certain I’ll never stop. I sip champagne through numb lips, my free hand shaking so badly that the liquid sloshes around in the glass. Psyche appears in front of me as if by magic, and though she’s got her blank expression firmly in place, her eyes are practically shooting lasers at both our mother and Zeus. “Persephone, I have to go to the bathroom. Come with me?” “Of course.” I barely sound like myself. I almost have to pry my fingers from Zeus’s, and all I can think about are those meaty hands on my body. Oh gods, I’m going to be sick. Psyche hustles me out of the ballroom, using her voluptuous body to shield me, dodging well-wishers as if she’s my own personal security. The hallway doesn’t feel any better, though. The walls are closing in. I can see Zeus’s imprint on every inch of this place. If I marry him, he’ll put his imprint on me, too. “I can’t breathe,” I gasp. “Keep walking.” She rushes me past the bathroom, around a corner, and to the elevator. The claustrophobic feeling is even worse when the doors close, trapping us in the mirrored space. I stare at my reflection. My eyes are too large in my face, and my pale skin is leached of color. I can’t stop shaking. “I’m going to be sick.” “Almost there, almost there.” She practically carries me out of the elevator the second the doors open, taking us down another wide, marbled hall to a side door. We slip into one of the handful of courtyards that surround the building, a little bit of carefully curated garden in the midst of so much city. It’s dormant now, dusted with the light snow that started to fall while we were inside. The cold cuts through me like a knife, and I welcome the sting. Anything is better than being up in that room for another moment longer. Dodona Tower is in the very center of downtown Olympus, one of the few pieces of property that is owned by the Thirteen as a whole rather than any one of the individuals, though everyone knows it’s Zeus’s in every way that counts. It’s a grand skyscraper that I used to find almost magical when I was too young to know better. Psyche guides me to a stone bench. “Do you need to put your head between your knees?” “It won’t help.” The world won’t stop spinning. I have to… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I’ve always seen my path before me, stretching out through the years to my ultimate goal. It’s always been so clear. Finishing my master’s degree here in Olympus, a compromise with my mother. Wait until I turn twenty-five and gain my trust fund and then use the money to break free of Olympus. It’s hard to fight your way through the barrier that keeps us separate from the rest of the world, but it’s not impossible. Not with the right people helping, and my money ensures that will be the case. And then I’ll be free. I can move to California to do my PhD at Berkeley. A new city, a new life, a fresh start. Now I can’t see anything at all. “I can’t believe she did this.” Psyche starts pacing, her movements short and angry, her dark hair so like our mother’s swinging with each step. “Callisto is going to kill her. She knew you didn’t want any part of this, and she forced you into it anyway.” “Psyche…” My throat feels hot and tight, my chest tighter yet. As if I’ve been impaled and am only now noticing. “He killed his last wife. His last three wives.” “You don’t know that.” She answers automatically, but she won’t quite meet my gaze. “Even if I don’t… Mother knew what everyone believes he’s capable of and didn’t care.” I wrap my arms around myself. It does nothing to quell my shakes. “She sold me to cement her power. She’s already one of the Thirteen. Why isn’t that good enough for her?” Psyche perches on the bench next to me. “We’ll figure out a way through this. We just need time.” “He’s not going to give me time,” I say dully. “He’s going to push the wedding through just like he pushed the proposal.” How long do I have? A week? A month? “We should call Callisto.” “No.” I nearly shout the word and make an effort to lower my voice. “If you tell her now, she’ll come straight here and make a scene.” When it comes to Callisto, that might mean yelling at our mother…or it might mean taking off one of the spike heels she favors and trying to stab Zeus in the throat. There would be consequences either way, and I can’t let my older sister bear the burden of protecting me. I have to figure my own way through this. Somehow. “Maybe making a scene is a good thing at this point.” Bless Psyche, but she still doesn’t understand. As daughters of Demeter, we have two choices—play within the rules of Olympus or leave the city behind entirely. That’s it. There is no bucking the system without paying the cost, and the consequences are too severe. One of us stepping out of line will create a ripple effect impacting everyone connected to us. Even Mother being one of the Thirteen won’t save us if it comes to that. I should marry him. It would ensure my sisters remain protected, or as near to it as is possible in this pit of vipers. It’s the right thing to do, even if the very thought makes me ill. As if in response, my stomach surges and I barely get to the nearest bushes in time to be sick. I’m vaguely aware of Psyche holding my hair away from my face and rubbing my back in soothing circles. I should do this…but I can’t. “I can’t do this.” Saying it aloud makes it feel more real. I wipe my mouth and force myself to stand. “We’re missing something. There’s no way that Mother would send you into a marriage with a man who might harm you. She’s ambitious, but she loves us. She wouldn’t put us in danger.” There was a time when I agreed. After tonight, I don’t know what to believe. “I can’t do this,” I repeat. “I won’t do this.” Psyche digs through her tiny purse and comes up with a stick of gum. When I make a face at her, she shrugs. “No use getting distracted by puke breath while you’re making life-changing statements of intent.” I take the gum and the peppermint flavor does help ground me a bit. “I can’t do this,” I repeat again. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that.” She doesn’t tell me how impossible this situation is going to be to get out of. She also doesn’t list all the reasons fighting it will never go my way. I’m just a single woman against all the power Olympus can bring to the fore. Stepping out of line isn’t an option. They’ll force me to my knees before they let me go. Getting out of this city was already going to take every resource I had. Getting out now that Zeus has claimed me? I don’t know if it’s even possible. Psyche takes my hands. “What are you going to do?” Panic bleats through my head. I have the budding suspicion that if I walk back into that building, I’ll never walk back out again. It feels paranoid, but I’d felt weird about how furtive Mother was acting for days now and look how that turned out. No, I can’t afford to ignore my instincts. Not any longer. Or maybe my fear is clouding my thoughts. I don’t know and I don’t care. I just know I absolutely cannot go back. “Can you go get my purse?” I left both it and my phone upstairs. “And tell Mother that I don’t feel so well and that I’m going home?” Psyche is already nodding. “Of course. Anything you need.” It takes ten seconds after she’s gone to register that going home won’t solve any of these problems. Mother will just come collect me and deliver me back to my new fiancé, trussed up if necessary. I scrub my hands over my face. I can’t go home, I can’t stay here, I can’t think. I shove to my feet and turn for the entrance to the courtyard. I should wait for Psyche to get back, should let her talk me down into something resembling calm. She’s just as cunning as Mother; she’ll come up with a solution if given enough time. But letting her get involved means running the risk that Zeus will punish her alongside me the second he realizes I desperately don’t want his ring on my finger. If there’s a chance to spare my sisters from the consequences of my actions, I’m going to do it. Mother and Zeus will have no reason to punish them if they had no part in helping me defy this marriage. I have to get out and I have to do it alone. Now. I take one step and then another. I almost stop when I come even with the thick stone archway leading out onto the street, almost let my rising reckless fear fail me and turn back to submit to the collar Zeus and my mother are so keen to put around my neck. No. The single word feels like a battle cry. I surge forward, past the entrance and out onto the sidewalk. I pick up my pace, moving at a brisk walk and turning south on instinct. Away from my mother’s home. Away from Dodona Tower and all the predators contained within. If I can just get some distance, I can think. That’s what I need. If I can get my thoughts in order, I can come up with a plan and find a way out of this mess. The wind picks up as I walk, cutting through my thin dress as if it doesn’t exist. I move faster, my heels clicking along the pavement in a way that reminds me of my mother, which only serves to remind me of what she’s done. I don’t care if Psyche is likely right, that Mother undoubtedly has some scheme up her sleeve that doesn’t put my head on a literal chopping block. Her plans make no difference. She didn’t talk to me, didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt; she simply sacrificed this pawn to get access to the king. It makes me sick. The tall buildings of downtown Olympus do a bit to cut off the wind, but every time I cross a street, it barrels down from the north and whips my dress around my legs. It feels extra icy coming off the water of the bay, so cold my sinuses hurt. I have to get out of the elements, but the thought of turning around and walking back to Dodona Tower is too awful to bear. I’d rather freeze. I laugh hoarsely at the absurd thought. Yes, that’ll show them. Losing a few toes and fingers to frostbite will definitely hurt my mother and Zeus more than it hurts me. I can’t tell if it’s panic or the cold making me loopy. Downtown Olympus is just as carefully polished as Zeus’s tower. All the storefronts create a unified style that’s elegant and minimalist. Metal and glass and stone. It’s pretty but ultimately soulless. The only indicator of what kind of businesses are contained behind the various glass doors are tasteful vertical signs with the business names. The further from the city center, the more individual style and flavor seep into the neighborhoods, but this close to Dodona Tower, Zeus controls everything. If we marry, will he order clothes for me so that I fit seamlessly in with his aesthetic? Supervise my hair stylist visits to mold me in the image he wants? Monitor what I do, what I say, what I think? The thought makes me shudder. It takes me three blocks before I realize my footsteps aren’t the only ones I hear. I glance over my shoulder to find two men half a block back. I pick up my pace, and they match it easily. Not quite trying to close the distance, but I can’t shake the sensation of being hunted. This late, all the shops and businesses in the downtown area are closed. There’s music a few blocks away that must be a bar still open. Maybe I can lose them in there—and get warm in the process. I take the next left turn, aiming in the direction of the sound. Another look over my shoulder shows only a single man behind me. Where did the other one go? I get my answer a few seconds later when he appears in the next intersection from my left. He’s not blocking the street, but every instinct I have tells me to stay as far away from him as possible. I veer right, once again heading south. The farther I get from the center of downtown, the more the buildings begin to break away from the cookie-cutter image. I begin to see trash on the street. Several of the businesses have bars on their windows. There is even a foreclosure sign or two taped to dirty doors. Zeus only cares about what he can see, and apparently his gaze doesn’t stretch to this block. Maybe it’s the cold muddling my thoughts, but it takes me far too long to realize that they’re driving me to the River Styx. True fears clamps its teeth into me. If they corner me against the banks, I will be trapped. There are only three bridges between the upper city and the lower city, but no one uses them—not since the final Hades died. Crossing the river is forbidden. If legend is to be believed, it’s not actually possible without paying some kind of terrible price. And that’s if I even managed to reach a bridge. Terror gives me wings. I stop worrying about how much my feet hurt in these ridiculously uncomfortable heels. The cold barely registers. There has to be a way to get around my pursuers, to find people who can help. I don’t even have my fucking phone. Damn it, I shouldn’t have let emotions get the best of me. If I’d just waited for Psyche to bring me my purse, none of this would be happening… Would it? Time ceases to have meaning. The seconds are measured in each harsh exhale tearing itself from my chest. I can’t think, can’t stop, am nearly sprinting. Gods, my feet hurt. At first, I barely register the rushing sound of the river. It’s almost impossible to hear over my own ragged breathing. But then it’s there in front of me, a wet, black ribbon too wide, too fast to swim safely, even if it were summer. In the winter, it’s a death sentence. I spin around to find the men closer. I can’t quite make out their faces in the shadows, which is right around the time I realize how quiet the night’s gotten. The sound of that bar is barely a murmur in the distance. No one is coming to save me. No one even knows I’m here. The man on the right, the taller of the two, laughs in a way that has my body fighting off shudders that have nothing to do with the cold. “Zeus would like a word.” Zeus. Had I imagined this situation couldn’t get worse? Foolish of me. These aren’t random predators. They were sent after me like dogs retrieving a runaway hare. I hadn’t really thought he’d stand idly by and let me escape, had I? Apparently so, because shock steals what little thought I have left. If I stop running, they will collect me and return me to my fiancé. He will cage me. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I won’t get another opportunity to escape. I don’t think. I don’t plan. I kick off my heels and run for my life. Behind me, they curse, and then their footsteps pound. Too close. The river curves here, and I follow the bank. I don’t even know where I’m headed. Away. I have to get away. I don’t care what it looks like. I’d throw myself into the icy river itself to escape Zeus. Anything is better than the monster who rules the upper city. Cypress Bridge rises up in front of me, an ancient stone bridge with columns that are larger around than I am and twice as tall. They create an arch that gives the impression of leaving this world behind. “Stop!” I ignore the yell and plunge through the arch. It hurts. Fuck, everything hurts. My skin stings as if being scraped raw by some invisible barrier, and my feet feel like I’m sprinting on glass. I don’t care. I can’t stop now, not with them so close. I barely notice the fog rising around me, coming off the river in waves. I’m halfway across the bridge when I catch sight of the man standing on the other bank. He’s wrapped in a black coat with his hands in his pockets, fog curling around his legs like a dog with its master. A fanciful thought, which is only further confirmation that I am not okay. I’m not even in the same realm as okay. “Help!” I don’t know who this stranger is, but he’s got to be better than what pursues me. “Please help!” He doesn’t move. My steps falter, my body finally beginning to shut down from the cold and fear and strange slicing pain of crossing this bridge. I stumble, nearly going to my knees, and meet the stranger’s eyes. Pleading. He looks down at me, still as a statue draped in black, for what feels like an eternity. Then he seems to make a choice: lifting a hand, palm extended toward me, he beckons me across what remains of the River Styx. I’m finally close enough to see his dark hair and beard, to imagine the intensity of his dark gaze as the strange buzzing tension in the air seems to relax around me, allowing me to push through those final steps to the other side without pain. “Come,” he says simply. Somewhere in the depths of my panic, my mind is screaming that this is a terrible mistake. I don’t care. I dredge up the last bit of my strength and sprint for him. I don’t know who this stranger is, but anyone is preferable to Zeus. No matter the price. Chapter 3 Hades The woman doesn’t belong on my side of the River Styx. That alone should be enough to make me turn away, but I can’t help but notice her limping sprint. The fact that she’s barefoot without a fucking coat in the middle of January. The plea in her eyes. Not to mention the two men chasing her down, trying to get to her before she reaches this side. They don’t want her to cross the bridge, which tells me all I need to know—they owe allegiance to one of the Thirteen. Normal citizens of Olympus avoid crossing the river, preferring to stick to their respective sides of the River Styx without fully understanding what makes them turn back when they reach one of the three bridges, but these two are acting like they realize she’ll be out of their reach once she touches this bank. I motion with my hand. “Faster.” She glances behind her, and panic sounds from her body as loudly as if she’d screamed. She’s more afraid of them than she is of me, which might be a revelation if I stopped to think about it too hard. She’s almost to me, a few short yards away. That’s when I realize I recognize her. I’ve seen those big hazel eyes and that pretty face plastered on all the gossip sites that love following the Thirteen and their circles of friends and family. This woman is Demeter’s second daughter, Persephone. What is she doing here? “Please,” she gasps again. There’s nowhere for her to run. They’re on one side of the bridge. I’m on the other. She must be truly desperate to make the crossing, to push past those invisible barriers and throw her safety in with a man like me. “Run,” I say. The treaty keeps me from being able to go to her, but once she reaches me— Behind her, the men pick up their pace, fully sprinting in an effort to get to her before she gets to me. She’s slowed down, her steps closer to hobbling, indicating that she’s injured in some way. Or maybe it’s purely exhaustion. Still, she stumbles on, determined. I count the distance as she covers it. Twenty feet. Fifteen. Ten. Five. The men are close. So fucking close. But rules are rules, and not even I can break them. She has to make it to the bank of her own power. I look past her at them, an ugly recognition rolling through me. I know these men; I have files on them that stretch back years. They are two enforcers who work behind the scenes for Zeus, taking care of tasks he’d rather his worshipping public not know he engages in. The fact that they’re here, chasing her, means something big is happening. Zeus likes to play with his prey, but surely he wouldn’t try that game with one of Demeter’s daughters? It doesn’t matter. She’s almost out of his territory…and into mine. And then, miraculously, she makes it. I catch Persephone around the waist the second she hits this side of the bridge, spin her and pin her back to my chest. She feels even smaller in my arms, even more breakable, and a slow anger rises in me at the way she shivers. These fuckers have chased her for some time, terrorizing her at his command. No doubt it’s a punishment of sorts; Zeus always did like driving people to the River Styx, letting their fear build with each block they passed until they were trapped on the banks of the river. Persephone is one of the few to actually attempt one of the bridges. It speaks to an inner strength to attempt the crossing without an invitation, let alone to succeed. I respect that. But we all have our roles to play tonight, and even if I don’t plan to harm this woman, the reality is that she’s a trump card that’s fallen right into my hands. It’s an opportunity I won’t pass up. “Hold still,” I murmur. She freezes except for her gasping inhales and exhales. “Who—” “Not now.” I do my best to ignore her shivering for the moment and bracket her throat with a hand, waiting for these two to catch up. I’m not hurting her, but I exert the slightest bit of pressure to keep her in place—to make it look convincing. She stills against me. I’m not sure if it’s instinctive trust or fear or exhaustion, but it doesn’t matter. The men stumble to a stop, unwilling and unable to cross the remaining distance between us. I’m on the bank of the lower city. I haven’t broken any laws and they know it. The one on the right glares. “That’s Zeus’s woman you have there.” Persephone goes rigid in my arms, but I ignore it. I draw on my rage, injecting it into my voice in icy tones. “Then he shouldn’t have let his little pet wander so far from safety.” “You’re making a mistake. A big mistake.” Wrong. This isn’t a mistake. It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting thirty fucking years to find. A chance to strike right to the heart of Zeus in his shining empire. To take someone important to him the same way he took the two most important people to me when I was a child. “She’s in my territory now. You’re welcome to try to steal her back, but the consequences for breaking the treaty will be on your head.” They’re smart enough to know what that means. No matter how much Zeus wants this woman returned to him, even he can’t break this treaty without bringing the rest of the Thirteen down on his head. They exchange a look. “He’s going to kill you.” “He’s welcome to try.” I stare them down. “She’s mine now. Be sure to tell Zeus how much I intend to enjoy his unexpected gift.” I move then, throwing Persephone over my shoulder and striding down the street, deeper into my territory. Whatever held her paralyzed up to this point shatters and she struggles, beating my back with her fists. “Put me down.” “No.” “Let me go.” I ignore her and stalk around the corner, moving quickly. Once we’re out of sight of the bridge, I set her on her feet. The woman tries to take a swing at me, which might amuse me under other circumstances. She’s got more fight in her than I expected from one of Demeter’s socialite daughters. I had planned on letting her walk on her own, but lingering out in the night after that confrontation is a mistake. She’s not dressed for it, and there’s always the chance that Zeus has spies in my territory who will report this interaction back to him. After all, I have spies in his territory. I shrug out of my coat and shove her into it, zipping it up before she has a chance to fight me, trapping her arms at her sides. She curses, but I’m already moving again, lifting her back over my shoulder. “Be quiet.” “The fuck I will.” My patience, already whisper thin, nearly snaps. “You’re half-frozen and limping. Shut up and be still until we get inside.” She doesn’t stop muttering under her breath, but she does stop struggling. It’s enough. Getting away from the river is the first priority right now. I doubt Zeus’s men will be foolish enough to attempt to finish the crossing, but tonight’s already brought the unexpected. I know better than to take anything for granted. The buildings this close to the river are intentionally run-down and empty. All the better to preserve the narrative the upper city likes to tell itself about my side of the river. If those glittering assholes think there’s nothing of value down here, they leave me and my people alone. The treaty only lasts as long as the Thirteen are in agreement. If they ever decide to band together to take the lower city, it means the worst kind of trouble. Better to avoid it altogether. A great plan up until tonight. I’ve kicked the hornet’s nest and there’s no unkicking it. The woman over my shoulder will either be the tool I use to finally bring Zeus down, or she’ll be my ruin. Cheery thoughts. I barely reach the end of the block before two shadows peel off from the buildings on either side of the street and fall into step a few feet behind me. Minthe and Charon. I’ve long since gotten used to the fact that my nightly wanderings are never truly solo. Even when I was a kid, no one ever tried to stop me. They just made sure I didn’t get into any trouble I couldn’t get out of again. When I finally took over the lower city and my guardian stepped down, he handed over control on everything except this. A softer person would assume my people do it out of care. Maybe that’s part of it. But at the end of the day, if I die now without an heir, the carefully curated balance of Olympus teeters and crumbles. The fools in the upper city don’t even realize how vital a cog I am to their machine. Unspoken, unacknowledged…but I prefer it that way. Nothing good comes when the other Thirteen turn their golden eyes this way. I cut through an alley and then another. There are parts of the lower city that look like the rest of Olympus, but this isn’t one of them. The alleys stink to high heaven and glass crunches under my shoes with each step. Someone who only saw the surface would miss the carefully concealed cameras arranged to take in the space from all angles. No one approaches my home without my people knowing about it. Not even me, though I’ve long since learned a few tricks for when I need actual alone time. I turn left and stride to a nondescript door tucked into an equally nondescript brick wall. A quick glance at the tiny camera angled at the top of the door and the lock clicks open beneath my hand. I shut the door softly behind me. Minthe and Charon will sweep the area and double back to ensure the two almost intruders don’t get any foolish ideas. “We’re inside now. Put me down.” Persephone’s voice is as frigid as any princess at court. I start down the narrow staircase. “No.” It’s dark, the only light coming from faint runners on the floor. The air goes breathtakingly cold as I reach the end of the stairs. We’re fully underground now, and we don’t bother with climate control in the tunnels. They’re here for easy traveling or a last-minute escape route. They’re not here for comfort. She shivers over my shoulder, and I’m glad I took the time to throw the coat on her. I won’t be able to see her injuries until we’re back in my home, and the quicker that happens, the better for everyone. “Put. Me. Down.” “No,” I repeat. I’m not about to waste my breath explaining that she’s running on sheer adrenaline right now, which means she’s not feeling any pain. And she will be feeling pain once those endorphins wear off. Her feet are fucked up. I don’t think she has hypothermia, but I have no idea how long she was exposed to the winter night in that sad excuse of a dress. “Do you often kidnap people?” I pick up my pace. Gone is the spiky fury, replaced by a calm that has concern rising. She might be going into shock, which will be damned inconvenient. I have a doctor on call, but the fewer people who know Persephone Dimitriou is in my possession right now, the better. At least until I figure out a plan to use this unexpected gift. “Did you hear me?” She shifts a little. “I asked if you often kidnap people.” “Be quiet. We’re almost there.” “That’s not really an answer.” I get a few seconds of blessed silence before she keeps talking. “Then again, I’ve never been kidnapped before, so I suppose expecting an answer about your kidnapper’s prior experience is just silly.” She sounds downright chipper. She’s definitely in shock. Continuing this line of conversation is a mistake, but I find myself saying, “You ran to me. That’s hardly kidnapping.” “Did I? I was just running to get away from the two men pursuing me. Your being there or not is immaterial.” She can say that all she likes, but I saw the way she zeroed in on me. She wanted my help. Needed it. And I had been unable to deny her. “You practically threw yourself into my arms.” “I was being chased. You seemed the lesser of two evils.” The tiniest of pauses. “I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.” I wind my way through the maze of tunnels to another set of stairs. This one is nearly identical to the ones I just descended, right down to the pale runners on each stair. I take them two at a time, ignoring her faint oof in response to my shoulder jarring her stomach. Once again, the door clicks open the second I touch it, unlocked by whoever is on shift in the security room. I slow down enough to ensure the door is properly closed behind me. Persephone twists a little on my shoulder. “A wine cellar. I don’t think I saw this coming.” “Is there a part of tonight that you did see coming?” I curse myself for asking the question, but she’s acting so strangely unflappable that I’m genuinely curious. More than that, if she’s actually verging into hypothermia, keeping her talking right now is the wise course of action. At that, her strangely cheerful tone fades down to almost a whisper. “No. I didn’t see any of it coming.” Guilt pricks me, but I ignore it with the ease of long practice. One last set of stairs out of the wine cellar and I stop in the back hallway of my home. After a quick internal debate, I head for the kitchen. There are first aid supplies tucked in a number of rooms around the building, but the two largest kits are in the kitchen and in my bedroom. The kitchen is closer. I push open the door and stop short. “What are you two doing here?” Hermes freezes, two bottles of my best wine in her small hands. She gives me a winning grin that isn’t the least bit sober. “There was a snore-fest of a party in Dodona Tower. We cut out early.” Dionysus has his head in my fridge, which is enough to tell me that he’s already drunk or high—or some combination of both. “You have the best snacks,” he says without pausing in his raiding of my food. “Now’s not a good time.” Hermes blinks behind her oversize yellow-framed glasses. “Uh, Hades.” The woman over my shoulder jolts as if struck by a live wire. “Hades?” Hermes blinks again and shoves back her cloud of black curls with one forearm. “Am I really, really drunk, or is that Persephone Dimitriou thrown over your shoulder like you’re about to role-play some sexy pillaging?” “That’s impossible.” Dionysus finally appears with the pie my housekeeper left in the fridge earlier today. He’s eating it directly from the container. At least he’s using a fork this time. He also has some crumbles in his beard and only one side of his mustache is curled; the other is only a little crimped, as if he’s scrubbed a hand over his face recently. He frowns at me. “Okay, maybe not impossible. Either that or the weed I smoked with Helen in the courtyard before leaving was laced with something.” Even if they hadn’t told me they’d come directly from a party, their clothing says it all. Hermes is wearing a short dress that would double as a disco ball, reflecting little sparkles against her dark-brown skin. Dionysus probably started the night with a suit, but he’s down to a white V-neck and there is a ball of wadded-up cloth on my kitchen island that’s no doubt his jacket and shirt. Over my shoulder, Persephone has gone stock-still. I’m not even sure she’s breathing. The temptation arises to turn around and walk away, but I know from past experience that these two will just follow along and pepper me with questions until I give in to frustration and snap at them. Better to rip off the Band-Aid now. I set Persephone on the counter and keep a hand on her shoulder to prevent her from taking a nosedive. She blinks big hazel eyes up at me, little shivers racking her body. “She called you Hades.” “It’s my name.” I pause. “Persephone.” Hermes laughs and sets the wine bottles on the counter with a clink. She points at herself. “Hermes.” She points at him. “Dionysus.” Another laugh. “Though you already knew that.” She leans against my shoulder and whisper-yells, “She’s going to marry Zeus.” I turn slowly to look at Hermes. “What?” I knew she had to be important to Zeus in order for him to send his men after her, but marriage? That means I have my hands on the shoulders of the next Hera. “Yep.” Hermes works the cork out of one of the bottles and takes a long drink directly from it. “They announced it tonight. You just stole the fiancée of the most powerful man in Olympus. It’s a good thing they aren’t married yet, or you would have kidnapped one of the Thirteen.” She giggles. “That is positively devious, Hades. I didn’t think you had it in you.” “I knew he did.” Dionysus tries to eat another bite of pie but has a bit of trouble finding his mouth, getting the fork tangled in his beard instead. He blinks down at the utensil as if it’s the one to blame. “He’s the boogeyman, after all. You don’t get that kind of reputation without being a tiny bit devious.” “That’s about enough of that.” I dig my phone out of my pocket. I need to see to Persephone, but I can’t do that while fielding dozens of questions from these two. “Hades!” Hermes whines. “Don’t kick us out. We just got here.” “I didn’t invite you.” Not that that’s stopped them from crossing the river whenever they feel like it. Part of that is Hermes—she can go where she pleases, when she pleases by virtue of her position. Dionysus technically has a standing invitation, but it was only meant to be for business purposes. “You never invite us.” She pouts red lips that she’s somehow managed not to smudge. “It’s enough to make a person think you don’t like us.” I give her the look that statement deserves and dial Charon. He should be back by now. Sure enough, he answers quickly. “Yeah?” “Hermes and Dionysus are here. Send someone to take them to their rooms.” I could toss them in a car and send them home, but with these two, there’s no guarantee that they won’t get a wild hair and come right back—or make even more questionable decisions. Last time I sent them home like this, they ended up ditching my driver and trying to take a drunken swim in the River Styx. At least if they’re under my roof, I can keep an eye on them until they sober up. I am aware of Persephone staring at me like I’ve sprouted horns, but getting this pair of idiots taken care of is the first priority. Two of my people arrive and usher them out, but only after a strained negotiation that has them taking the pie and wine with them. I sigh the moment the door closes behind them. “Those are thousand-dollar bottles of wine. She’s drunk enough that she’s not even going to taste it.” Persephone makes a strange hiccupping sound, which is my only warning before she shoves my coat off—having unzipped it while I was distracted—and makes a run for it. I’m surprised enough that I stand there and watch her try to hobble for the door. And she is hobbling. A glimpse of red streaking the floor in her wake is enough to snap me out of it. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” “You can’t keep me here!” I snag her around the waist and carry her back to the kitchen island to drop her on it. “You’re acting like a fool.” Big hazel eyes glare at me. “You kidnapped me. Trying to escape you is the smart thing to do.” I grab her ankle and lift her foot to get a good look at it. It’s only when Persephone scrambles to hold her dress in place that I realize I probably could have gone about this in a different way. Oh well. I carefully touch her sole and show her my finger. “You’re bleeding.” There are several large gashes, but I can’t tell if they’re deep enough to need stitches. “Then let me go to the hospital and I’ll get it taken care of.” She’s nothing if not persistent. I tighten my grip on her ankle. She’s still shivering. Damn it, I don’t have time for this argument. “Let’s say I do that.” “Then do it.” “Do you think you’ll get ten feet inside a hospital without the staff calling your mother?” I hold her gaze. “Without them calling your…fiancé?” She flinches. “I’ll figure it out.” “Like I said—you’re being foolish.” I shake my head. “Now hold still while I check for glass.” Chapter 4 Persephone He’s real. I know I should be screaming or fighting or trying to make it to the nearest phone, but I’m still grappling with the fact that Hades is real. My sisters are never going to hear the end of this. I knew I was right. Besides, now that my panic is fading, I can’t exactly fault him for anything. He might have threatened me a smidge in front of Zeus’s men, but the alternative was to be dragged back to Dodona Tower. And yes, my stomach might have the permanent imprint of his shoulder there, but as he keeps growling at me, my feet are injured. Not to mention the careful way he cleans my wounds doesn’t exactly support the rumor that Hades is a monster. A monster would have left me to my fate. He’s…something else. He’s built lean and strong, and there are scars across his knuckles. A full beard and shoulder-length dark hair just lean in to the imposing presence he creates. His dark eyes are cold but not entirely unkind. He just looks as exasperated with me as he was with Hermes and Dionysus. Hades pulls out a tiny shard of glass and drops it into the bowl he brought over. He glares at the glass like it insulted his mother and kicked his dog. “Hold still.” “I am holding still.” Or at least I’m trying. It hurts and I can’t stop shivering, even with his coat back around my shoulders. The longer I sit here, the more it hurts, as if my body is just catching up with my brain to realize the trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into. I can’t believe I left, can’t believe I walked for far too long through the dark and cold until I landed here. Thinking about that now is out of the question. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan or a clear bullet-pointed list to get me from point A to point B. I’m free-falling. My mother might kill me when she tracks me down. Zeus… I shudder. My mother will threaten to toss me out the nearest window or drink herself to death, but Zeus might actually hurt me. Who would stop him? Who is powerful enough to stop him? No one. If there was someone who could stop that monster, the last Hera would still be alive. Hades pauses, a pair of tweezers in his battered hands and a question in his eyes. “You’re shivering.” “No, I’m not.” “For fuck’s sake, Persephone. You’re shaking like a leaf. You can’t just say you’re not and expect me to believe it when I can see the truth with my own eyes.” His glare is really impressive, but I’m too numb to feel anything right now. I simply sit there and watch him stalk to the door tucked back in the corner of the room and return with two thick blankets. He sets one on the counter next to me. “I’m going to lift you now.” “No.” I don’t even know why I’m arguing. I’m cold. Blankets will help. But I can’t seem to stop myself. He gives me a long look. “I don’t think you’re hypothermic, but if you don’t warm up soon, you might end up there. It’d be a shame if I had to use body heat to get you back to a safe temperature.” It takes several long seconds for his meaning to penetrate. Surely he can’t mean that he’d strip us down and bundle us up together until I warm up. I stare. “You wouldn’t.” “I sure as fuck would.” He glares. “You’re no use to me if you die now.” I ignore the outrageous impulse to call him on his bluff and instead hold up a hand. “I can move on my own.” I’m painfully aware of his close attention as I shift myself up and over until I’m sitting on the blanket instead of the cold granite countertop. Hades wastes no time wrapping the second blanket around me, covering up every inch of exposed skin above my ankles. Only then does he go back to his work of extracting glass from my soles. Damn him, but the blanket really does feel good. Warmth starts seeping into my body almost immediately, fighting the chill that’s taken up residence in my bones. My shivering gets more violent, but I’m aware enough to realize that’s a good sign. Desperate to grab on to any distraction, I focus on the man at my feet. “The last Hades died. You’re supposed to be a myth, but Hermes and Dionysus know you.” They were at the party I fled—my…engagement party—but I don’t really know them any better than the rest of the Thirteen. Which is to say I don’t know them at all. “Is there a question in there?” He pulls out another sliver of glass and drops it into the bowl with a clink. “Why are you supposed to be a myth? It doesn’t make any sense. You’re one of the Thirteen. You should be…” “I’m a myth. You’re dreaming,” he says drily as he prods my foot. “Any sharp pain?” I blink. “No. It just aches.” He nods, as if that’s exactly what he expected. I watch numbly as he lays out a series of bandages and proceeds to wash and bandage my feet. I don’t… Maybe he’s right and I really am dreaming, because this doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. “You’re friends with Hermes and Dionysus.” “I’m not friends with anyone. They just show up periodically like stray cats I can’t get rid of.” No matter his words, there’s a thread of fondness in his tone. “You’re friends with two of the Thirteen.” Because he was one of the Thirteen. Just like my mother. Just like Zeus. Oh gods, Psyche is right and Hades is just as bad as the rest of them. The events of the night crash over me. Flashes of scene after scene. The sculpture room. My mother’s caginess. Zeus’s hand trapping mine as he announced our engagement. The terror-stricken run alongside the river. “They ambushed me,” I whisper. At that, Hades looks up, a frown pulling his strong brows together. “Hermes and Dionysus?” “My mother and Zeus.” I don’t know why I’m telling him this, but I can’t seem to stop. I clutch the blanket more firmly around my shoulders and shiver. “I didn’t know the party tonight was announcing our engagement. I didn’t agree to our engagement.” I’m exhausted enough I can almost pretend I get a flash of sympathy before irritation writes itself across his features. “Look at you. Of course Zeus wants to add you to his long list of Heras.” He would think that. The Thirteen see something they want, and they take it. “It’s my fault that they made that decision without even talking to me because of what I look like?” Is it possible for the top of a person’s head to literally explode? I have a feeling I might find out if we continue this conversation. “It’s Olympus. You play power games, you pay the consequences.” He finishes wrapping my second foot and pushes slowly to his feet. “Sometimes you pay the consequences even if it’s your parents playing the games. You can cry and sob about how unfair the world is, or you can do something about it.” “I did do something about it.” He snorts. “You ran like a frightened deer and thought he wouldn’t chase you down? Sweetheart, that’s practically foreplay for Zeus. He’ll find you and drag you back to that palace of his. You’ll marry him just like the obedient daughter you are, and within a year, you’ll be popping out his asshole children.” I slap him. I don’t mean to. I don’t think I’ve ever raised my hand to a person in my entire life. Not even my irritating younger sisters when we were children. I stare in horror at the red mark blooming on his cheekbone. I should apologize. Should…something. But when I open my mouth, that’s not what comes out. “I’ll die first.” Hades looks at me a long time. I’m usually pretty good at reading people, but I have no idea what’s going on behind those deep, dark eyes of his. Finally, he grinds out, “You’ll stay here tonight. We’ll talk in the morning.” “But—” He picks me up again, scooping me into his arms like I’m the princess he named me, and gives me such a cold look, I swallow my protest. I have nowhere to go tonight, no purse, no money, no phone. I can’t afford to look this gift horse in the mouth, even if he’s growly and goes by the name parents have threatened their children with for generations. Well, maybe not this Hades. He looks like he’s somewhere in his early to midthirties. But the role of Hades. Always in the shadows. Always catering to dark deeds best done out of the sight of our normal, safe world. Is it really that safe? My mother just effectively sold me in marriage to Zeus. A man who empirical facts paint not as the golden king, beloved by all, but as a bully who’s left a string of dead wives in his wake. And those are just his wives. Who knows how many women he’s victimized over the years? Thinking about it is enough to make me sick to my stomach. No matter which way you spin it, Zeus is dangerous and that’s a fact. By contrast, everything surrounding Hades is pure myth. No one I know even believes he exists. They all agree that at one point, a Hades did exist but that the family line that held the title has long since died out. That means I have next to no information to pull from about this Hades. I’m not sure he’s the better bet, but at this point, I’d take a man in a bloody trench coat with a hook for a hand over Zeus. Hades takes me up a winding staircase that looks straight out of a gothic movie. Honestly, the bits of this house I’ve seen are the same. Bold, dark hardwood floors, crown molding that should be overwhelming but somehow just creates the illusion of leaving both time and reality behind. The hallway of the second floor is covered in a thick deep-red carpet. The better to hide the blood. I give a hysterical giggle and clamp my hands to my mouth. This is not funny. I should not be laughing. I’m obviously thirty seconds away from losing it completely. Hades, of course, ignores me. The second door on the left is our destination, and it’s not until he’s walking through it that my missing self-preservation kicks in. I’m alone with a dangerous stranger in a bedroom. “Put me down.” “Don’t be dramatic.” He doesn’t drop me on the bed like I expect. He sets me down carefully and takes an equally careful step back. “If you bleed all over my floors trying to escape, I’ll be forced to track you down and haul you back here to clean them.” I blink. It’s so close to what I was thinking that it’s almost eerie. “You are the strangest man I’ve ever met.” Now it’s his turn to give me a wary look. “What?” “Exactly. What? What kind of threat is that? You’re worried about your floors?” “They’re nice floors.” Is he joking? I might believe it of anyone else, but Hades looks just as serious as he has since I saw him standing there on the street like some kind of grim reaper. I frown up at him. “I don’t understand you.” “You don’t have to understand me. Just stay here until morning and try to resist the urge to do anything to injure yourself further.” He nods at the door tucked back in the corner. “Bathroom is through there. Stay off those feet as much as possible.” And then he’s gone, sweeping out the door and shutting it softly behind him. I count to ten slowly and then do it three more times. When no one rushes in to check on me, I inch up the bed to the phone sitting innocently on the nightstand. Too innocently? Surely there’s no way to make a call without being overheard. With those secret tunnels, Hades doesn’t seem the type to leave anything resembling a security breach just sitting here. It’s probably a trap, something designed to have me spilling secrets or something. It doesn’t matter. I’m afraid of Zeus. Angry with my mother. But I can’t leave my sisters frantic for my whereabouts any longer. Psyche will have called Callisto by now, and if there’s anyone in my family who will rampage through Olympus, stepping on toes and making threats until I’m found, it’s my eldest sister. My disappearance will already have set fire to the hornet’s nest. I can’t let my sisters do anything to aggravate a situation that’s already an unmitigated mess. Taking a deep breath that does nothing to brace me, I pick up the phone and dial Eurydice’s number. She’s the only one of my sisters who will answer an unfamiliar number on the first try. Sure enough, three rings later, her breathless voice comes across the line. “Hello?” “It’s me.” “Oh, thank the gods.” Her voice gets a little distant. “It’s Persephone. Yes, yes, I’ll put it on speaker.” A second later, the line gets a little fuzzy as she does exactly that. “I have Callisto and Psyche here, too. Where are you?” I look around the room. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” “Try.” This from Callisto, a flat statement that says she’s half a second from trying to figure out how to crawl through the telephone line to throttle me. “If I realized you were going to take off the second I went to get your purse, I wouldn’t have left you alone.” Psyche’s voice wobbles as if she’s on the verge of tears. “Mother is tearing apart the upper city looking for you, and Zeus…” Callisto cuts her off. “Fuck Zeus. And fuck Mother, too.” Eurydice gasps. “You can’t say things like that.” “I just did.” Against all reason, their squabbling calms me. “I’m okay.” I glance at my bandaged feet. “I’m mostly okay.” “Where are you?” I don’t have a plan, but I know I can’t go home. Walking back into my mother’s household is as good as admitting defeat and agreeing to marry Zeus. I can’t do it. I won’t. “That doesn’t matter. I’m not coming home.” “Persephone,” Psyche says slowly. “I know you’re not happy about this, but we have to find a better way forward than running into the night. You’re the woman with a plan, and right now, you have no plan.” No, I don’t have a plan. I’m free-falling in a way that feels dangerous and has terror licking up my spine. “Plans were meant to be adapted.” All three of them are silent, a rare enough occurrence that I wish I could appreciate it. Finally, Eurydice says, “Why are you calling now?” That’s the question, isn’t it? I don’t know. “I just wanted you to know I’m okay.” “We’ll believe you’re okay when we know where you are.” Callisto still sounds ready to mow down anyone who gets between her and me, and I manage a smile. “Persephone, you just disappeared. Everyone is frantically looking for you.” I digest that statement, picking it apart. Everyone is frantically looking for me? They mentioned Mother before, but I didn’t really connect the dots until now. It doesn’t make any sense that she doesn’t already know my location because… “Zeus knows where I am.” “What?” “His men followed me all the way to Cypress Bridge.” Thinking about it makes me shudder. I have no doubt they had instructions to haul me back, but they could have easily taken me a few blocks from Dodona Tower. They chose to pursue me, to drive my desperation and fear higher. No underling of Zeus would dare do something like that to his intended bride…unless they were ordered to by Zeus himself. “He’s acting like he doesn’t know where I am?” “Yes.” The anger hasn’t quite bled out of Callisto’s voice, but it’s dampened. “He’s talking about organizing search parties, and Mother is fluttering at his elbow as if she hasn’t already ordered the same thing done with her people. He’s mobilized his private security force, too.” “But why would he do that if he already knows where I am?” Psyche clears her throat. “Did you cross the Cypress Bridge?” Damn. I hadn’t meant to let that slip. I close my eyes. “I’m in the lower city.” Callisto snorts. “That shouldn’t make a difference to Zeus.” She’s never paid much attention to the rumors that crossing the river is nearly as impossible as leaving Olympus. I honestly didn’t quite believe it, either, not until I felt that horrible pressure when I did it myself. “Unless…” Eurydice has gotten ahold of her emotions and I can practically see her mind whirling. She plays the ditzy damsel when it suits her, but she’s probably the smartest of the four of us. “The city used to be divided into three. Zeus, Poseidon, Hades.” “That was a long time ago,” Psyche murmurs. “Zeus and Poseidon work together now. And Hades is myth. Persephone and I were just talking about this tonight.” “If he weren’t a myth, Hades would be enough to give Zeus pause.” Callisto snorts. “Except even if he existed, there’s no way he wouldn’t be just as bad as Zeus.” “He’s not.” The words slip free despite my best efforts to keep them internal. Damn it, I meant to keep them out of it, but obviously that isn’t going to work. I should have known that the moment I dialed Eurydice. In for a penny, in for a pound. I clear my throat. “No matter what he is, he’s not as bad as Zeus.” My sisters’ voices comingle as they voice their shock. “What?” “Did you hit your head while you were running from those assholes?” “Persephone, your obsession is getting out of control.” I sigh. “I’m not hallucinating, and I didn’t hit my head.” Best not to tell them about my feet or the fact that I’m still shivering a bit, even after being bundled up. “He’s real, and he’s been here this whole time.” My sisters are silent once again as they digest that. Callisto curses. “People would have known.” They should have. The fact that we’ve all believed him a myth this whole time speaks to a larger influence that wanted to wipe Hades’s memory from the face of Olympus. It speaks of Zeus’s meddling, because who else has the power to pull something like that off? Maybe Poseidon, but if it doesn’t concern the sea and the docks, he doesn’t seem to care about it. None of the rest of the Thirteen operate with the same amount of power as the legacy roles. None of them would dare take out the title of Hades, not on their own. But then, no one really talks about how little crossover there is between the upper and lower city. It’s just taken as the way things are. Even I never questioned it, and I question so much else when it comes to Olympus and the Thirteen. Finally, Psyche says, “What do you need from us?” I think hard. I only have to last to my birthday and then I’m free. The trust fund our grandmother set up releases to me then, and I don’t have to rely on my mother or anyone in Olympus for anything ever again. But not until then, my twenty-fifth birthday. I have some funds of my own now, but they aren’t really my own. They’re my mother’s. I could ask my sisters to bring me my purse, but Mother will have already frozen my accounts. She likes to do that to punish us, and she’ll want to ensure I come crawling back after humiliating her like this. More, I don’t want my sisters in the lower city, even if they could make their way across the River Styx. Not when danger seems to be around every corner. Really, there’s only one answer. “I’m going to figure something out, but I’m not coming back. Not right now.” “Persephone, that’s not a plan.” Callisto huffs out a breath. “You have no money, no phone that isn’t likely to be tapped, and you’re shacking up with Olympus’s boogeyman, who also happens to be one of the Thirteen. He is the very definition of dangerous. This is the opposite of a plan.” I can’t argue that. “I’ll figure it out.” “Yeah, no. Try again.” Psyche clears her throat. “If Eurydice can distract Mother, Callisto and I can bring you a burner phone and what money we have on hand. It should at least buy you time to figure things out.” The last thing I want to do is drag my sisters into this, but it’s too late now. I lean back against the headboard. “Let me think about it. I’ll call tomorrow with more details.” “That’s not—” “I love you all. Goodbye.” I hang up before they can find another angle to argue from. It’s the right call to make, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve cut off my last connection to my past. I’ve been working out a way to leave Olympus for a very long time, so this break was bound to happen, but I thought I’d have more notice. I thought I’d still be able to connect with my sisters without putting them in danger. I thought, given enough time, Mother would even come around and forgive me for not playing a pawn in one of her schemes. It seems that I was wrong about a lot of things. To give myself something else to think about, I look around the room. It’s just as opulent as the parts of the house I’ve seen so far, the bed large and with a dark-blue canopy that would do any princess proud. The hardwood floors that Hades is so fond of are covered with a thick carpet and there’s yet more crown molding everywhere. It’s as atmospheric as the rest of the house, but it doesn’t really give me many clues about the man who owns this place. It’s obviously a spare bedroom, and as a result, it’s doubtful it’ll tell me anything about Hades. My body chooses that moment to remind me that I walked for hours in the cold in those godforsaken heels and then ran over gravel and glass barefoot. My legs ache. My back hurts. My feet… Best not to think too hard about them. I am so incredibly exhausted, enough that I might actually sleep tonight. I look around the room again. Hades might not be as bad as Zeus, but I can’t take any chances. I climb gingerly to my feet and limp to the door. There’s no lock, which has me cursing softly. I limp to the bathroom and nearly whimper with relief when I find that this door does have a lock. My muscles seem to turn from flesh to stone with each second that passes, weighing me down as I drag the massive comforter off the bed and into the bathroom. The tub is more than large enough to sleep in, uncomfortable or no. After a quick internal debate, I go back to the bedroom door and drag the side table in front of it. At least I’ll hear someone coming this way. Satisfied I’ve done all I can, I lock the bathroom door and practically collapse into the tub. In the morning, I’ll have a plan. I’ll figure out a way forward and this won’t seem like the end of the world. I just need a plan… Chapter 5 Hades After a few hours of restless sleep, I head down to the kitchen in search of coffee only to find Hermes perched on my kitchen island, eating ice cream out of the carton. I stop short, faintly alarmed by the fact that she’s dressed in a pair of cutoff shorts and an oversize T-shirt that she was most definitely not wearing last night. “You keep clothes at my house.” “Duh. No one wants to wear the aftermath of their drunken adventures home.” She motions behind her without looking. “I put on coffee.” Thank the gods for small favors. “Coffee and ice cream is one way to deal with a hangover.” “Shhh.” She makes a face. “My head hurts.” “Imagine that,” I murmur and walk around to grab us both mugs. I pour hers two-thirds of the way full and pass it over. She promptly drops a giant dollop of ice cream into the coffee, and I shake my head. “You know, I seem to remember locking up last night. And yet here you are.” “Here I am.” She gives me a slightly rumpled version of her usual wicked grin. “Come now, Hades. You know that there isn’t a lock in this city that can keep me out.” “I’ve become aware of it over the years.” The first time she showed up was a mere month after she earned the title of Hermes, some five or six years ago now. She startled me in my office and almost ended up with a bullet in her head as a result. Somehow, that interaction translated into her deciding that we’re great friends. It took me a year to figure out that it didn’t matter what I thought of the so-called friendship. Then Dionysus started appearing with her about six months after that, and I gave up fighting their presence. If they’re spies for Zeus, they’re completely ineffectual and aren’t gaining any information I don’t want him to have. If they aren’t… Well, it’s not my problem. She takes a long drink of her ice-cream-dosed coffee and makes a disturbingly sex-like sound. “Are you sure you don’t want some?” “I’m sure.” I lean against the counter and try to decide how to play this. I can’t really trust Hermes. No matter that she seems to consider us friends, she is one of the Thirteen and I’d be a fool ten times over to forget that. More, she makes her home in the shadow of Dodona Tower and answers directly to Zeus—at least when it suits her. Showing my hand before I have a concrete plan is a recipe for disaster. But the cat’s out of the bag in every way that matters. Zeus’s men will have reported Persephone’s location to him already. Hermes confirming it changes nothing. Dionysus stumbles through the door. His mustache is a mess and his pale skin is nearly green. He waves vaguely in my direction and makes a beeline for the coffee. “Morning.” Hermes snorts. “You look like death.” “You’re to blame. Who drinks wine after whiskey? Villains, that’s who.” He contemplates the coffeepot for a long moment and finally pours himself a mug. “Just shoot me in the head and put me out of my misery.” “Don’t tempt me,” I mutter. “Yes, yes, you’re very broody and terrifying.” Hermes spins on the island to face me. Her dark eyes light up with mischief. “All these years I thought it was an act, but then you stalk in, carrying your kidnapping victim.” I start to clarify that I didn’t actually kidnap anyone, but Dionysus barks out a laugh. “So I didn’t hallucinate that. Persephone Dimitriou always seemed a bit of a sunny bore, but she just got interesting. She stepped out of that party less than thirty minutes after Zeus announced their engagement, and then she turns up on the other side of the River Styx, where good upper-city girls most definitely don’t go? Very, very interesting.” I frown, unable to stop myself from focusing on the least important part of what he just said. “A sunny bore?” Admittedly, we hardly met under ideal circumstances, but the woman is anything but a bore. Hermes shakes her head, sending her curls bouncing. “You’ve only seen her in her public persona when her mom drags her to events, Dionysus. She’s not too bad when she’s not locked down, especially when she’s hanging out with her sisters.” Dionysus opens one eye. “Darling, spying is highly frowned upon.” “Who said I’m spying?” He opens the other eye. “Oh, so you’ve been spending time with the Dimitriou sisters, have you? The four women who hate the Thirteen with a passion that’s truly outstanding considering who their mother is.” “Maybe.” She can’t even keep a straight face. “Okay, no, but I was curious because their mother is so determined to match them up with as many powerful people as she can get her hands on. It pays to know these things.” I watch this play out with fascination. Hermes, being one of the Thirteen, should be someone I dislike on principle, but her role edges her into the shadows in a number of ways. Private messenger, the holder of secrets I can only begin to guess at, a thief when it suits her. She’s nearly as much a patron of the darkness as I am. It should make her even less trustworthy than the rest of them, but she’s so damned transparent that sometimes it makes my head ache. Then the rest of their words penetrate. “So it’s true. She’s set to marry Zeus.” “They announced it last night. It would have been sad if I had any room in my heart for pity. She was trying so hard to keep her smile in place, but the poor thing was terrified.” Dionysus closes his eyes again and leans back against the counter. “Hopefully she lasts longer than the last Hera. It’s enough to wonder what game Demeter is playing. I thought she cared more about her daughters’ safety than that.” I’m aware of Hermes watching me closely, but I refuse to show my interest. I have too many years of locking everything away until there’s a thick wall between me and the rest of the world. Tolerating these people in my house does not translate to bringing them into my confidence. No one earns that. Not when I’ve seen how spectacularly it can backfire and get people killed in the process. Hermes inches to the edge of the island and kicks her legs out, a study in casualness. “You’re right, Dionysus. She didn’t agree to it. A little birdie told me that she had no idea it was happening until they dragged her to the front of the room and put her in a position where she had to agree or piss Zeus off with the entire Thirteen present—well, the Thirteen minus Hades and Hera. We all know how well that goes over.” “You work for Zeus,” I say mildly, forcing down the instinctive anger that rises every time that fucker’s name comes up. “Nope. I work for the Thirteen. Zeus just happens to take advantage of my services more often than the others—including you.” She leans forward and gives me an awkward wink. “You should consider utilizing my skills to their fullest extent. I’m rather outstanding at my role, if I do say so myself.” She might as well dangle the bait right in front of my face and give it a good shake. I raise my brows. “I’d be a fool to trust you.” “He’s right.” Dionysus burps and looks even greener, if that is possible. “You’re tricksy.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m the very paragon of innocence.” Hermes plays a deeper game than anyone else. She has to in order to maintain her balance of a vaguely neutral party in the midst of all the politicking and manipulation and schemes of the other Thirteen. Trusting her is like putting my hand in a tiger’s mouth and hoping it’s not in the mood for a snack. Still… Curiosity sinks its fangs into me and refuses to let go. “Most people in Olympus would happily give their right hand to become one of the Thirteen, marriage to Zeus or no.” The tabloids paint a picture of Persephone as a woman with more money than sense—the exact kind of person who’d jump at being married to a rich and powerful man like Zeus. That Persephone is nothing like the strong yet terrified person who fled across the bridge last night. Which one is real? Only time will tell. Hermes’s smile widens as if I’ve just given her a gift. “One would think, wouldn’t they?” “Put him out of his misery and share the gossip.” Dionysus groans. “You’re making my headache worse.” Hermes pulls her legs up, and I have to bite back the urge to tell her to get her goddamn feet off my counter. She cups her mug in both hands and holds it in front of her mouth. “Demeter’s daughters aren’t interested in power.” “Right.” I snort. “Everyone’s interested in power. If not power, then money.” I can’t count how many times the Dimitriou daughters have been photographed shopping for things they certainly don’t need. At least once a week. “That’s what I thought, too. Which is why I feel I can be forgiven for snooping.” She shoots a look at Dionysus, but he’s too lost in his hangover misery to notice. “Not a single one of them cares about their mother’s ambitions. The youngest has even let Calliope’s favorite son tempt her into a relationship.” That gets my interest. “Apollo’s little brother?” “The very one.” She laughs. “The ultimate fuckboy.” I let that pass, because it doesn’t really matter what I think of Orpheus Makos. His family might not be a legacy one in Olympus, but they’ve had plenty of power and fortune through the generations, even before Orpheus’s older brother became Apollo. From the rumors I’ve heard of the guy, he’s a musician on a permanent quest to find himself. I’ve heard his music, and it’s good, but it doesn’t quite excuse the excess he indulges in to pursue his various muses. “You have a point.” “Do I?” She waggles her eyebrows. “I’m just saying that you might want to sit the woman down and ask what she wants.” She shrugs and hops off the counter, only weaving a little on her feet. “Or you could just play to expectation and lock her up in a dungeon. I’m sure Zeus would love that.” “Hermes, you know very well that I don’t have a dungeon.” “Not a dank and dark one.” More eyebrow waggling. “We’ve all seen the playroom, though.” I refuse to acknowledge that. The parties I host from time to time are as much part of my role as Hades as anything else. A carefully crafted persona that is designed to inspire the darker emotions and, as a result, ensure the few people who know about my existence in the upper city don’t fuck with me. If I happen to enjoy this particular part of said persona, who can blame me? Persephone would take one look at that room and run screaming for her life. “Time for you to go home.” I nod to the hall. “I can have Charon take you.” “Don’t bother. We’ll catch our own ride.” She pops up onto her tiptoes and presses a quick kiss to my cheek. “Have fun with your captive.” “She’s not my captive.” “Keep telling yourself that.” Then she’s gone, dancing out of the room in her bare feet as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The woman exhausts me. Dionysus seems to have no intention of leaving my mug behind, but he stops in the doorway. “You and the sunshine girl might be able to help each other.” He grimaces at my look. “What? It’s a perfectly legitimate thought to have. She’s probably one of the few people in Olympus who hates Zeus as much as you do.” He snaps his fingers. “Oh, and I’ll have that shipment for you by the end of the week. I didn’t forget.” “You never do.” As soon as he walks out the door, I snag Hermes’s abandoned coffee cup and put it in the sink. The woman leaves mess wherever she goes, but I’m used to it at this point. Last night was relatively tame on the Hermes-Dionysus scale. Last time they broke in, they brought a chicken they’d found gods alone knew where. I was finding feathers for days afterward. I stare at the coffeepot, pushing away thoughts of those two troublemakers. They aren’t the ones I need to be worried about right now. Zeus is. I’m honestly surprised he hasn’t contacted me already. He’s not one to sit back and wait when someone takes away one of his toys. It’s so fucking tempting to reach out first, to rub his nose in the fact that this little socialite was willing to run to me rather than marry him. Doing so is too impulsive and petty. If I intend to use Persephone to actually get some measure of revenge… I’ll be just as bad as he is. I try to push the thought aside. My people have suffered from Zeus’s machinations. I have suffered, have lost just as much as anyone. I should be jumping at this chance to get a measure of revenge. And I do want revenge. But do I want it at the expense of this woman who has already played a pawn to both her mother and Zeus? Am I cold enough to push forward despite her protests? I suppose I could ask her what she wants. What a novel thought. I grimace and pour a second cup of coffee. After a moment’s consideration, I find the cream and sugar and dose it. Persephone doesn’t seem the type to drink her coffee black. Then again, what do I know? The only information I have on her is what’s written in the gossip columns that follow the Thirteen and the people in their sphere. Those “journalists” adore the Dimitriou women and follow them around like a pack of dogs. I’m actually kind of impressed Persephone made it out of that party without acquiring an entourage. How much is real and how much is creatively put together fiction? Impossible to say. I know better than most that reputation often has little to do with reality. I’m stalling. The second I realize it, I curse and stalk out of the kitchen and up the stairs. It’s not late, but I’d half expected her to be up and terrorizing someone in the household by now. Both Hermes and Dionysus managed to stir from the drunken coma they call sleep and leave before Persephone woke. I hate that tendril of concern that worms its way through me. This woman’s mental health is not my business. It just fucking isn’t. Zeus and I already dance on the edge of a sword every time we’re forced to interact. One wrong move and I’ll be sliced in two. More importantly, one wrong move and my people suffer the consequences. I’m putting myself and my people in danger for this woman who’s probably just as power hungry as her mother and will likely wake up realizing that her best way to that power is with Zeus’s ring on her finger. It doesn’t matter what she said on the phone last night to her sisters. It can’t matter. I knock on the door and wait, but no sound emerges. I knock again. “Persephone?” Silence. After a quick internal debate, I open the door. There’s the slightest bit of resistance, and I push harder, making something crash on the other side. With a long sigh, I step into the room. It takes one look around the room—to see the tipped-over side table and the missing comforter—for me to come to the conclusion that she hid in the bathroom all night. Of course she did. She’s in big, bad Hades’s house so she just assumes that she’ll be harmed in some way while she’s defenseless in sleep. She barricaded herself in. It makes me want to throw something, but I haven’t allowed myself that kind of loss of control since I was barely out of my teens. I set down the coffee mug and pick up the side table, taking a moment to put it back exactly where it belongs. Satisfied with the placement, I stride to the bathroom door and knock. A shuffling on the other side. Then her voice, so close she has to be pressed against the door. “Do you often break into people’s rooms without permission?” “Do I need permission to enter a room in my own house?” I don’t know why I’m engaging in this. I should just open the door, drag her out, and send her on her way. “Perhaps you should have people sign a waiver before crossing the threshold if that’s how you think home ownership works.” She’s just so strange. So…unexpected. I frown at the whitewashed wood. “I’ll consider it.” “See that you do. You woke me rather abruptly.” She sounds so damn prim that I want to rip this door off the hinges just to get a good look at the expression she’s wearing right now. “You were sleeping in a tub. Hardly the recipe for a good night’s rest.” “That’s a very narrow worldview you have.” I glare, though there’s no way she can see it. “Open the door, Persephone. I’m tired of this conversation.” “You seem to do that a lot. If you find me so tiresome, you shouldn’t be breaking down my door at ungodly hours of the morning.” “Persephone. The door. Now.” “Oh, if you insist.” I step back at the click of the lock and then she’s there, standing in the doorway and looking deliciously rumpled. Her blond hair is a mess, there’s a crease pressed into her cheek from her pillow, and she’s got the comforter wrapped around her like a suit of armor. A very fluffy, very ineffective suit of armor that requires her to shuffle into the room with tiny steps to avoid falling on her face. The ridiculous urge to laugh rises, but I smother it. Any reaction will only encourage her, and this woman already has me set back on my heels. Get her sorted out. Either use her or get her out. That’s all that matters. I wave at the mug. “Coffee.” Persephone’s hazel eyes widen the tiniest bit. “You brought me coffee.” “Most people drink coffee in the morning. It’s really not a big deal.” I make a face. “Though Hermes is the only one I know who doses it with ice cream.” If anything, her eyes get wider. “I can’t believe Hermes and Dionysus have known about you this entire time. How many other people know that you’re not a myth?” “A few.” A nice, safe, noncommittal answer. She’s still staring at my face as if searching for evidence of someone she knows, as if I’m somehow familiar to her. It’s disconcerting in the extreme. I have the irrational suspicion that she’s fisting that comforter so tightly to avoid reaching out and touching me. Persephone tilts her head to the side. “Did you know there’s a statue of Hades in Dodona Tower?” “How would I know?” I’ve only been to the tower once, and Zeus hardly gave me the full tour. I never want to repeat the experience, unless it’s to end that bastard once and for all. That particular vengeful fantasy has gotten me through more rough days than I want to number. She continues on as if I didn’t respond, still studying my features too closely. “There’s these statues of each of the Thirteen, but yours has a black shroud over it. I guess to signify that your line has ended. You’re not supposed to exist.” “Yes, you keep saying that.” I consider her. “It certainly seems like you’ve spent a lot of time studying this Hades statue. Hardly the kind of man Demeter would want you chasing down.” Just like that, something shutters in her eyes and her smile brightens to blinding levels. “What can I say? I’m an eternal disappointment as a daughter.” She takes a step and winces. She’s injured. Fuck, I forgot. I move before I have a chance to consider the wisdom of it. I scoop her up, ignoring her squawk, and set her on the bed. “Your feet are hurting you.” “If they’re hurting me, I will happily sit down under my own power.” I look down at her, meeting her eyes, and realize exactly how close we are. An unwelcome frisson of awareness pulses through me. I sound too harsh when I manage to speak. “Then do it.” “I will! Now get back. I can’t think with you so close.” I take a slow step back and then another. Setting her on the bed was a mistake, because now she’s looking deliciously rumpled on the bed, and I’m far too aware of other bed-related activities that would accomplish the same look. Fuck, but she’s beautiful. It’s the warm kind of beauty that feels like summer sunlight on my face, like if I get too close, I’ll smudge it. I stare at this beautiful, baffling woman, and I’m not sure I can go through with using her, even to punish Zeus for all the harm he’s caused me and mine. I slip my hands into my pockets and strive for a neutral tone. “It’s time we spoke about what comes next.” “Actually, I was thinking the same thing.” Persephone carefully dismantles her blanket armor and gives me a long look. It’s all the warning I get before she smashes through the wall of my good intentions. “I believe we can help each other.” Chapter 6 Persephone A night sleeping in a stranger’s bathtub has a way of bringing perspective to a situation. I have nowhere to go. No resources. No friends who won’t bow to my mother’s will. A winter didn’t seem like that long when I was still moving through my normal life. Now? Three months might as well be an eternity for all I can breach it. My sisters would help me—Callisto would drain her trust fund to ensure I get out of Olympus unscathed—but I can’t let them get that involved. I might be leaving this city, but they aren’t and it would be cowardly in the extreme to accept their help and then whirl away, leaving them to deal with the consequences. No, there real