Main A Touch of Ruin
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Brilliant sequel and loads of drama, lol
02 May 2021 (23:25)
This book broke me. Not as much spice as the first book, but definitely better when it came to the story telling. There is never a dull moment in this book. I still get a little heartache every time I see this book.
20 May 2021 (08:25)
oh I didn't know there was a sequel, well definitely planning on reading it now, haha.
19 July 2021 (14:08)
Como lo puedo traducir
30 July 2021 (17:13)
I prefer Lore Olympus better
17 August 2021 (09:29)
I prefer this than lore olympus
29 August 2021 (13:37)
I DIDN'T THERE WAS A SECOND BOOK
13 September 2021 (22:44)
I didn't know* there was a SECOND BOOK
13 September 2021 (22:45)
Porque no está en español ?
17 September 2021 (22:57)
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. ISBN: 979-8-6372991-2-6 (Paperback) ISBN: (ebook) Copyright © 2020 Scarlett St. Clair Cover Design by: Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author. For more information visit www.ScarlettStClair.com DEDICATION To the readers of A Touch of Darkness. Thank you for your enthusiasm and your love of Hades x Persephone. MORE BOOKS BY SCARLETT ST. CLAIR A Touch of Darkness When Stars Come Out COMING SOON A Touch of Malice A Game of Fate Contents DEDICATION MORE BOOKS BY SCARLETT ST. CLAIR PART I CHAPTER I - A TOUCH OF DOUBT CHAPTER II - A TOUCH OF DUPLICITY CHAPTER III - A TOUCH OF INJUSTICE CHAPTER IV - A TOUCH OF WARNING CHAPTER V - ROYAL TREATMENT CHAPTER VI - LOVER’S QUARREL CHAPTER VII - TRUCE CHAPTER VIII - ABDUCTION CHAPTER IX - A TOUCH OF POISON CHAPTER X - GOD OF MUSIC CHAPTER XI - UNRAVELING PART II CHAPTER XII - THE DESCENT INTO HELL CHAPTER XIII - A TOUCH OF PANIC CHAPTER XIV - INIQUITY CHAPTER XV - A NETWORK OF SECRETS CHAPTER XVI - BREAKING POINT CHAPTER XVII - THE PLEASURE DISTRICT CHAPTER XVIII - THE FURIES CHAPTER XIX - GODDESS OF SPRING CHAPTER XX - COMPETITION CHAPTER XXI - A TOUCH OF BETRAYAL CHAPTER XXII - THE SEVEN MUSES CHAPTER XXIII - THE SOLSTICE CELEBRATION PART III CHAPTER XXIV - A TOUCH OF MADNESS CHAPTER XXV - COLLECTING PIECES CHAPTER XXVI - A TOUCH OF SERENITY CHAPTER XXVII - EMPOWERMENT CHAPTER XXVIII - A TOUCH OF RUIN THANK YOU FOR READING! AUTHOR’S NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR PAR; T I “Fate's arrow, when expected, travels slow.” ― Dante Alighieri, Paradiso CHAPTER I - A TOUCH OF DOUBT Persephone walked along the bank of the river Styx. Jagged waves broke the dark surface and her skin tightened as she recalled her first visit to the Underworld. She’d attempted to traverse the wide body of water, unaware of the dead inhabiting the depths below. They’d taken her under, their fleshless fingers cutting into her skin, their wish to destroy life provoking their attack. She thought she would drown—and then Hermes had come to her rescue. Hades had not been pleased about any of it, but he’d taken her to his palace and healed her wounds. Later, she would learn the dead in the river were ancient corpses who had come to the Underworld without coin to pay Charon’s toll. Sentenced to an eternity in the river, they were just one of many ways Hades protected the borders of his realm from the living who wished to enter and the dead who wished to escape. Despite Persephone’s unease near the waterway, the landscape was beautiful. The Styx stretched for miles, soldering to a horizon shadowed by sable mountains. White narcissus grew in clusters along its banks, ignited like white fire against the dark surface. Opposite the mountains, Hades’ palace haunted the horizon, rising like the jagged edges of his obsidian crown. Yuri, a young soul with a thick mane of cascading curls and olive skin, walked beside her. She wore pink robes and leather sandals—an ensemble that stood out against the shadowy mountains and black water. The soul and Persephone had become fast friends, and often went on walks together in the Asphodel Valley but today, Persephone had convinced Yuri to stray from their usual path. She glanced at her companion now, whose arm was looped through hers, and asked, “How long have you been here, Yuri?” Persephone guessed that the soul had been in the Underworld for a while based on the traditional peplos she wore. Yuri’s delicate brows drew together over her grey eyes. “I do not know. A long time.” “Do you remember what the Underworld was like when you arrived?” Persephone had a lot of questions about the Underworld from antiquity—it was that version that still had its claws in Hades, that version which made him feel ashamed, that version which made him feel unworthy of his peoples’ worship and praise. “Yes. I don’t know that I’ll ever forget.” She offered an awkward laugh. “It was not as it is now.” “Tell me more,” Persephone encouraged. Despite being curious about Hades’ past and the history of the Underworld, she couldn’t deny that part of her feared uncovering the truth. What if she didn’t like what she found? “The Underworld was…bleak. There was nothing. We were all colorless and crowded. There were no days and no nights, just a monotone of grey and we existed in it.” So, they really had been shades—shadows of themselves. Persephone recalled when she’d first visited the Underworld. Hades had taken her into his garden. She’d been so angry with him. He had challenged her to create life, but his realm was beautiful and lush, full of colorful flowers and lively willows. Then he had revealed it was all an illusion. Beneath the glamour he maintained was a land of ash and fire. “That sounds like punishment,” Persephone said, thinking it terrifying to exist without purpose. Yuri offered a faint smile and she shrugged. “It was our sentence for living mundane lives.” Persephone frowned. She knew that in ancient times heroes were usually the only ones who could expect a euphoric existence in the Underworld. “What changed?” “I do not know for sure. There were rumors, of course—some said that a mortal Lord Hades loved died and came to exist here.” Persephone knit her brows. She wondered if there was some truth to that considering Hades had a similar change in perspective after she’d written about his ineffective bargains with mortals. He’d been so motivated by her critique, he’d started The Halcyon Project, a plan that included the construction of a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center that specialized in free care to mortals. An ugly feeling crept up her spine and through her body, spreading like a plague. Maybe she hadn’t been the only lover who inspired Hades. Yuri continued, “Of course, I tend to think he just…decided to change. Lord Hades watches the world. As it became less chaotic, so did the Underworld.” Persephone didn’t think it was that simple. She had tried to make Hades talk about this, but he avoided the subject. Now she wondered if his silence was less about shame and more about keeping the details of his past lovers a secret. She spiraled quickly, her thoughts became turbulent, a whirlwind picking up uncertainty and doubt. How many women had Hades loved? Did he still have feelings for any of them? Had he brought them to the bed he now shared with her? The thought made her stomach feel sour. Luckily, she was pulled from her thoughts when she spotted a group of souls standing on a pier near the river. Persephone halted and nodded toward the crowd. “Who are they, Yuri?” “New souls.” “Why do they cower on the banks of the Styx?” Of all the souls Persephone had encountered, these looked the most...dead. Their faces were drawn, and their skin ashy and pale. They clustered together, backs bent, arms cross over their chests, shivering. “Because they are afraid,” Yuri said, her tone implied that their fear should be obvious. “I don’t understand.” “Most have been told the Underworld and its King are dreadful, so when they die, they do so in fear.” Persephone hated that for a lot of reasons—mainly because the Underworld wasn’t a place to be feared, but she also found that she was frustrated with Hades, who did nothing to change the perception of his realm or himself. “No one comforts them once they reach the gates?” Yuri gave her a strange look, as if she didn’t understand why someone would attempt to ease or welcome newly arrived souls. “Charon takes them across the Styx and now they must walk the road to judgement.” Yuri said. “After that, they are deposited in a place of rest or eternal torture. It is how it has always been.” Persephone pressed her lips together, her jaw tightening with irritation. It amazed her that in one breath, they could talk about how much the Underworld had evolved, and yet still implement archaic practices. There was no reason to leave these souls without welcome or comfort. She broke free of Yuri’s hold and strolled toward the waiting group, hesitating when they continued to tremble and shrink away from her. She smiled, hoping it might ease their anxiety. “Hello. My name is Persephone.” Still, the souls quaked. She should have known her name would bring no comfort. Her mother, Demeter, the Olympian Goddess of Harvest, had ensured that. Out of fear, she had kept Persephone locked in a glass prison most of her life, barring her from worship, and inevitably, from her powers. A jumble of emotions tangled in her stomach—frustration that she could not help, sadness that she was weak, and anger that her mother had tried defying fate. “You should show them your Divinity,” Yuri suggested. She had followed Persephone as she approached the souls. “Why?” “It would comfort them. Right now, you are no different than any soul in the Underworld. As a goddess, you are someone they hold in high regard.” Persephone started to protest. These people did not know her name—how would her Divine form ease their fears? Then Yuri added, “We worship the Divine. You will bring them hope.” Persephone did not like her Divine form. She had a hard time feeling like a goddess before she had powers, and that hadn’t changed even when her magic flared to life, encouraged by Hades’ worship. She quickly learned it was one thing to have magic, another to use it properly. Still, it was important to her that these new souls felt welcomed in the Underworld, that they see Hades’ realm as another beginning, and most of all, she wanted to ensure they knew their king cared. Persephone release the hold she had on her human glamour. The magic felt like silk slipping from her skin and she stood in an ethereal glow before the souls. The weight of her white kudu horns somehow felt heavier now that she was exposed in her true form. Her curly hair was brightened from a brassy gold to a pale yellow and her eyes burned an unearthly bottle-green. She smiled at the souls again. “I am Persephone, Goddess of Spring. I am so pleased you are here.” Their reaction to her radiance was immediate. They moved from trembling to worshipping on their knees at her feet. Persephone’s stomach hardened, and her heartbeat quickened as she shot forward. “Oh no, please,” she knelt before one of the souls—an older woman with short, white hair and paper-thin skin. She touched her cheek and watery-blue eyes met hers. “Please, stand with me,” she said, and helped the woman to her feet. The other souls remained on the ground, heads lifted, eyes transfixed. “What is your name?” “Elenor,” she rasped. “Elenor.” Persephone said the name with a smile on her lips. “I hope you will find the Underworld as peaceful as I do.” Her words were like a string, straightening the woman’s sagging shoulders. Persephone moved to the next soul and the next. Until she has spoken to each one and they all stood on their feet again. “Perhaps we should all walk to the Field of Judgement,” she suggested. “Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Yuri interrupted. “Thanatos!” The winged God of Death appeared instantly. He was beautiful in a dark way, with pale skin, blood-red lips, and white-blonde hair that fell over his shoulders. His blue eyes were as striking as a flash of lightning in the night sky. His presence inspired a sense of calm that Persephone felt deep in her chest. It was almost as if she were weightless. “My lady,” he bowed, his voice melodic and rich. “Thanatos,” Persephone couldn’t help the wide smile that crossed her face. Thanatos had been the first to offer her insight into Hades’ precarious role as the God of the Dead during a tour of Elysium. It was his perspective that helped her understand the Underworld a little better, and if she were being honest, provided what she needed to fully give herself to Hades. She gestured to the souls gathered and introduced them to the god. His smile was slight, but sincere as he said, “We’ve met.” “Oh.” She cheeks flushed. “I’m so sorry. I forgot.” As the reaper of souls, Thanatos was the last face mortals saw before they landed on the shores of the Styx. “I was just about to escort the new souls to the Field of Judgement.” She noted that Thanatos’ eyes widened slightly, and he looked at Yuri who spoke quickly. “Lady Persephone is needed back at the palace. Could you take them for her, Thanatos?” “Of course,” he replied, bringing his hand to his chest. “I would be delighted.” Persephone waived goodbye to the souls as Thanatos turned toward the crowd, stretched his wings wide, and vanished. Yuri wound her arm through Persephone’s, tugging her away from the banks of the Styx, but Persephone didn’t budge. “Why did you do that?” she asked. “Do what?” “I am not needed at the palace, Yuri. I could have taken the souls to the field.” “I am sorry, Persephone. I feared they would make requests.” “Requests?” her brows drew together. “What might they request?” “Favors,” she explained. Persephone giggled at the thought. “I am hardly in a position to grant favors.” “They don’t know that,” she said. “All they see is a goddess who might help them get an audience with Hades or return to the living world.” Persephone frowned. “Why do you think that?” “Because I was one of them.” Yuri tugged on her arm again, and this time, Persephone followed. Strained silence filled the space between them, and Persephone frowned. “I’m sorry, Yuri. Sometimes I forget—” “That I’m dead?” She smiled, but Persephone felt small and silly. “It’s okay. That’s one of the reasons I like you so much,” she paused a moment, and added. “Hades chose his consort well.” “His consort?” Persephone’s brows rose. “Isn’t it obvious that Hades intends to marry you?” Persephone laughed. “You are being very presumptive, Yuri.” Except that Hades had made his intentions clear. You will be my queen. I do not need the Fates to tell me that. Her chest tightened, the words forming knots in her stomach. Those words should have made her heart melt and the fact that they didn’t disturbed her. Maybe it had something to do with their recent breakup. Why did she feel such apprehension when Hades seemed so certain about their future? Yuri, oblivious to Persephone’s internal war, said, “Why wouldn’t Lord Hades choose you as queen? You are an unwed goddess and you haven’t taken a vow of chastity.” The soul gave her a knowing look that made Persephone blush. “Being a goddess does not qualify me to be Queen of the Underworld.” “No, but it’s a start. Hades would never choose a mortal or a nymph as his queen. Trust me, he has had plenty of opportunities.” A shock of jealousy shot down Persephone’s spine. It was like a match landing in a pool of kerosene. Her magic surged, demanding an exit. It was a defense mechanism, and it took her a moment to tamp it down. Get a hold of yourself, she commanded. She wasn’t ignorant to the fact that Hades had other lovers throughout his lifetime—one being the red-headed nymph, Minthe who she’d transformed into a mint plant. Still, she had never considered that Hades’ interest in her might be, in part, due to her Divine blood. Something dark wound its way around her heart. How could she let herself think this way about Hades? He encouraged her to embrace her Divinity, worshipped her so that she might claim her freedom and power, and he’d told her he loved her. If he was to make her his queen, it would be because he cared for her, not because she was a goddess. Right? Persephone soon distracted from her thoughts as she and Yuri returned to the Asphodel Valley where she was swarmed by children who begged her to play. After a short game of hide-and-seek, she was dragged away by Ophelia, Elara, and Anastasia who wanted her opinion on wines, cakes, and flowers for the upcoming Summer Solstice Celebration. The solstice marked the beginning of the new year and signified the one-month countdown to the Panhellenic Games—something even death couldn’t quell the souls’ excitement for. With such an important celebration at hand, Persephone had asked Hades if they could host a party at the palace, to which he had agreed. She was looking forward to having the souls in the halls again, just as much as they were looking forward to being there. By the time Persephone returned to the palace, she still felt unsettled. The darkness of her doubt swelled, pressing against her skull, and her magic pulsed beneath her skin, making her feel achy and exhausted. She rang for tea and wandered into the library, hoping that reading would take her mind off her conversation with Yuri. Curling into one of the large chairs near the fireplace, Persephone leafed through Hecate’s copy of Witchcraft and Mayhem. It was one of several assignments from the Goddess of Magic, who was helping her learn to control her erratic power. It wasn’t working as fast as she hoped. Persephone had waited a long time for her powers to manifest, and when they did, it had been during a heated argument with Hades. Since then, she had managed to make flowers bloom but had trouble channeling the appropriate amount of magic. She had also discovered her ability to teleport was glitchy which meant she didn’t always end up where she intended. Hecate said it was just a matter of practice, but it still made her feel like a failure, and it was for these reasons, she’d decided not to use magic in the Upperworld. Not until she got it under control. So, in preparation for her first lesson with Hecate, she studied, learning the history of magic, alchemy, and the diverse and terrifying powers of the gods, yearning for the day when she could use her power as easily as she breathed. Suddenly, warmth spread across her skin, raising the hair on the back of her neck and arms. Despite the heat, she shivered, her breath growing shallow. Hades was near, and her body knew it. She wanted to groan as an ache began low in her stomach. Gods. She was insatiable. “I thought I would find you here,” Hades’ voice came from above, and she looked up to find him standing behind her. His smokey eyes met hers as he bent to kiss her, his hand cupping her jaw. It was a possessive hold, and a passionate kiss that left her lips raw when he pulled away. “How was your day, darling?” His endearment stole her breathe. “Good.” The corners of Hades’ mouth lifted and as he spoke, his eyes dropped to her lips. “I hope I’m not disturbing you. You appeared quite entranced by your book.” “No.” She said quickly, then cleared her throat. “I mean…it’s just something Hecate assigned.” “May I?” he asked, releasing her from his grip and holding his hand out for the book. Wordlessly, she gave it to him and watched as the God of the Dead rounded her chair and leafed through the book. There was something incredibly devilish about the way he looked, a storm of darkness dressed head to toe in black. “When do you begin training with Hecate?” he asked. “This week,” she said. “She gave me homework.” “Hmm.” He was silent, keeping his eyes on the book as he spoke. “I heard you greeted new souls today.” Persephone straightened, unable to tell if he was irritated with her. “I was walking with Yuri when I saw them waiting on the bank of the Styx.” Hades looked up, eyes like firelight. “You took a soul outside Asphodel?” There was a hint of surprise in his voice. “It’s Yuri, Hades. Besides, I do not know why you keep them isolated.” “So they do not cause trouble.” Persephone giggled, but stopped when she saw the look in Hades’ eyes. He stood between her and the fireplace, ignited like an angel. He really was magnificent with his high cheekbones, well-manicured beard, and full lips. His long hair was pulled into a knot at the back of his head. She liked it that way because she liked taking it down, liked running her fingers through it, liked seizing it when he was inside her. At that thought, the air became heavier, and she noticed Hades’ chest rose with a sharp inhaled as if he could sense the change in her thoughts. She licked her lips and forced herself to focus on the conversation at hand. “The souls in Asphodel never cause trouble.” “You think I am wrong.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement and he didn’t seem at all surprised. Their whole relationship had started because Persephone thought he was wrong. “I think you do not give yourself enough credit for having changed, and therefore do not give the souls enough credit for recognizing it.” The god was silent for a long moment. “Why did you greet the souls?” “Because they were afraid, and I didn’t like it.” Hades’ mouth twitched. “Some of them should be afraid, Persephone.” “Those who should, will be, no matter the greeting they have from me.” Mortals know what led to eternal imprisonment in Tartarus, she thought. “The Underworld is beautiful, and you care about your people’s existence, Hades. Why should the good fear such a place? Why should they fear you?” “As it were, they still fear me. You were the one who greeted them.” “You could greet them with me,” she offered. Hades smirk remained, and his expression softened. “As much as you find disfavor with the title of queen, you are quick to act as one.” Persephone froze for a moment, caught between the fear of Hades’ anger and the anxiety of being called queen. “Does...that displease you?” “Why would it displease me?” “I am not queen,” she said, rising from her seat and approaching him, plucking the book from his hands. “I also cannot figure out how you feel about my actions.” “You will be my queen,” Hades said fiercely, almost like he was trying to convince himself it was true. “The Fates have declared it.” Persephone bristled, her earlier thoughts returning in a rush. How was she supposed to ask Hades why he wanted her as his queen? Worse, why did she feel like she needed him to answer that question? She turned and disappeared into the stack to hide her reaction. “Does that displease you?” Hades asked, appearing in front of her, blocking her path like a mountain. Persephone startled but recovered quickly. “No,” she replied, pushing past him. Hades followed close. As she returned the book to its place on the shelf, she spoke. “Although, I would rather you want me as queen because you love me, not because the Fates have degreed it.” Hades waited until she faced him to speak. He was frowning. “You doubt my love?” “No!” Her eyes widened at the conclusion he’d come to, then her shoulders fell. “But...I suppose we cannot avoid what others may perceive about our relationship.” “And what do others say, exactly?” He stood so close she could smell spice and smoke and a touch of winter air. It was the scent of his magic. A shoulder rose and fell as she said, “That we are only together because of the Fates. That you have only chosen me because I am a goddess.” “Have I given you reason to think such things?” She stared, unable to answer. She didn’t want to say that Yuri had planted the idea in her head. The thought had been there before—a seed planted early on. Yuri had merely watered it and now it was growing, as wild as the black vines that sprouted from her magic. Hades spoke faster, demanding. “Who has given you doubts?” “I have only just started to consider—” “My motives?” “No—” He narrowed his eyes. “It seems that way.” Persephone took a step away, the bookcase pressing into her back. “I am sorry I said anything.” “It is too late for that.” Persephone glared. “Will you punish me for speaking my mind?” “Punish?” Hades tilted his head to the side, and he moved closer, hips leaning into hips, leaving no space between them. “I am interested to hear how you think I might punish you.” Those words wound her tight, and despite the heat they inspired, she managed to glare at him. “I am interested in having my questions answered.” Hades jaw tightened. “Remind me again of your question.” She blinked. Was she asking him if he had only chosen her because she was a goddess? Was she asking him if he loved her? She took a deep breath and peered up at him through her lashes. “If there were no Fates, would you still want me?” She couldn’t place the look on Hades’ face. His eyes were a laser, melting her chest and her heart and her lungs. She couldn’t breath as she waited for him to speak—and he didn’t. Instead, he reached for her with one hand and clasped her jaw. His body vibrated—she could feel the violence beneath, and for a moment she wondered what the King of the Underworld intended to unleash. Then his grip softened, and his fingers splayed across her cheek, eyes lowering to her lips. “Do you know how I knew the Fates made you for me?” His voice was a hoarse whisper, a tone he used in the darkness of their room after they made love. Persephone shook her head slowly, ensnared by his gaze. “I could taste it on your skin and the only thing I regret is that I have lived so long without you.” His lips trailing along her jaw and across her cheek. She held her breath, leaning into his touch, seeking his mouth, but instead of kissing her, he stepped away. His sudden distance left her unsteady, and she leaned against the bookshelf for support. “What was that?” she demanded, glaring at him. He offered a dark chuckle, the corners of his mouth lifting. “Foreplay.” The he reached forward, swept her into his arms and over his shoulder. Persephone gave a small yelp of surprise, and demanded, “What are you doing?” “Proving that I want you.” He strolled out of the library and into the hall. “Put me down, Hades!” “No.” She had a feeling he was grinning. His hand crept up between her thighs, parting her flesh, and diving inside of her. She gripped the fabric of his jacket so she wouldn’t fall off his shoulder. “Hades!” she moaned. He chuckled, and she hated him for it. She released his long locks and yanked on the strands, pulling his head back, seeking his lips. Hades’ was obliging and braced her against the nearest wall offering a vicious kiss before pulling away to growl in her ear. “I will punish you until you scream, until you come so hard around my cock, you are left in no doubt of my affection.” His words stole her breath and her magic awakened, warming her skin. “Make good on your promises, Lord Hades,” she said against his mouth. Then the wall beneath Persephone gave way and she yelped as Hades stumbled forward. He managed to prevent them both from landing on the floor, and once they were steady, he guided her to her feet. She recognized the way he held her—protectively, an arm wrapped high on her shoulders. She craned her neck and discovered they were in the dining room. The banquet table was crowded with Hades’ staff, including Thanatos, Hecate, and Charon. The wall they’d been pressed against was a door. Hades cleared his throat, and Persephone buried her head into Hades’ chest. “Good evening,” Hades said, she was surprised by how calm he sounded when he spoke. He wasn’t even breathless, though she could feel his heart beating hard against her ear. She thought Hades would excuse himself and vanish, but instead he said, “The Lady Persephone and I are famished, and we wish to be alone.” She froze and jabbed him in the side. What was he doing? All at once, people started to move, clearing away plates, silverware, and huge platters of untouched food. “Good evening, my lady—my lord.” They filed out of the dining room with glittering eyes and wide smiles. Persephone kept her gaze lowered, a perpetual blush on her cheeks as Hades’ residents paraded into the hall to dine elsewhere in the palace. When they were alone, Hades wasted no time leaning into her, guiding her back until her legs hit the table. “You cannot be serious.” “As the dead,” he answered. “The…dining room?” “I’m quite hungry, aren’t you?” Yes. But she had no time to respond. Hades lifted her onto the table, stepped between her legs, and knelt as a servant would kneel to their queen. Her dress rose as his hands trailed up her calves. He teased, lips skimming the inside of her thighs before his mouth found her core. Persephone arch off the table and her breath hitched as Hades worked, his tongue ruthless in its assault, his short beard creating a delicious friction against her sensitive flesh. She reached for him, tangling her fingers into his hair, writhing beneath this touch. Hades held her tighter, his fingers digging into her flesh to hold her in place. A guttural sound escaped her when his lips fastening around her cleft and his fingers replaced his thrusting tongue, filling and stretching until pleasure exploded throughout her body. She was sure she was glowing. This was rapture, euphoria, ecstasy. And it was all interrupted by a knock at the door. Persephone froze and tried to sit up, but Hades held her in place and growled looking up at her from his place between her legs. “Ignore it.” It was spoken like a command, his eyes ignited like embers. He continued ruthlessly, moving deeper, harder, faster. Persephone could barely stay on the table, she could barely breath, feeling as though she were clawing her way to the surface of the Styx again, desperate for air, but content in the knowledge that this death would be a happy one. But the knock continued, and a hesitant voice called out, “Lord Hades?” Persephone couldn’t tell who was on the other side of the door, but they sounded nervous and they had reason to be, because the look on Hades face was murderous. This is how he looks when he faces souls in Tartarus, she thought. Hades sat back on his heels. “Go away,” he snapped. There was a beat of silence. Then the voice said, “It’s important, Hades.” Even Persephone noted to heightened alarm in the person’s tone. Hades sighed and stood, taking her face between his hands. “A moment, my darling.” “You won’t hurt him, will you?” “Not too terribly.” He didn’t smile as he stepped into the hallway. Persephone felt ridiculous sitting on the edge of the table, so she slipped off, adjusted her skirts, and started to pace the extravagant dining room. Her first impression of this room had been that it was over-the-top. The ceiling boasted several unnecessary crystal chandeliers, the walls were adorned in gold, and Hades’ chair looked like a throne at the head of the table. To top it off, he rarely dined in this room, often preferring to take his meals elsewhere in the palace. That was one reason she’d decided to use it during the Solstice Celebration—all this beauty would not go to waste. Hades returned. He seemed frustrated, his jaw flexed, and his eyes glittered with a different kind of intensity. He stopped a few inches from her, hands in his pockets. “Is everything okay?” she asked. “Yes,” he said. “And no. Ilias has made me aware of a problem better dealt with sooner than later.” She stared at him, waiting, but he didn’t explain. “When will you be back?” “An hour. Maybe two.” She frowned, and Hades’ touched her chin so that her eyes were level with his. “Trust, my darling, leaving you is the hardest decision I make each day.” “Then don’t,” she said, placing her hands around his waist. “I’ll go with you.” “That is not wise.” His voice was gruff, and Persephone’s brows knit together. “Why not?” “Persephone—” “It’s a simple question,” she interrupted. “It isn’t,” he snapped, and then sighed, running his fingers through his loose hair. She stared. He had never lost this temper quite like this. What had him so agitated? She thought about pushing for an answer, but knew she would get nowhere, so instead, she relent. “Fine,” she took a step away, creating distance between them. “I’ll be here when you return.” Hades frowned. “I will make it up to you.” She arched a brow and commanded, “Swear it.” Hades’ eyes simmer beneath the glow of the crystal lights. “Oh, darling. You don’t need to extract an oath. Nothing will keep me from fucking you.” CHAPTER II - A TOUCH OF DUPLICITY Persephone’s body vibrated, warmed from the spark Hades had ignited. Without supervision, the flame had spread, consuming her whole body. She sought a distraction and wandered outside where she walked through the garden, consumed by the smell of damp soil and sweet blossoms. She caressed petals and leaves as she passed until she came to the edge of the plot where a wild field of yellowing grass danced, encouraged by a whispered breezed. She took off at a run, orange flowers bloomed at her feet as she sailed across the field. She didn’t have to focus on using her magic. It radiated from her, unfiltered and uncontrolled. Hades’ Dobermans joined her, chasing each other until she came to a halt at the edge of Hecate’s meadow. The goddess sat cross-legged outside her cottage with her eyes closed. Persephone wasn’t sure if she was meditating or casting a spell. If Persephone had to guess, she’d say the Goddess of Witchcraft was probably cursing some mortal in the Upperworld for some heinous deed against women. Cerberus, Typhon, and Orthrus did not follow Persephone as she approached the goddess. “Sated already?” Hecate asked, her eyes were still closed. Persephone would never forgive Hades for what had gone down in front of his staff. “Does it look like it?” she grumbled. Sexual frustration was making her grumpy. Hecate opened one eye, and then the other. “Ah,” she said. “Care to train instead?” “Only if I get to blow something up.” A small smile tugged at Hecate’s berry lips. “You get to meditate.” “Meditate?” The last thing Persephone wanted to do was be alone with her raging thoughts. Hecate patted the ground beside her, and Persephone sighed, taking a seat. Her body felt rigid, her hands warm and sweaty. “Your first lesson, Goddess. Control your emotions.” “How is that a lesson?” Persephone asked. Hecate gave her a knowing look. “Do you want to talk about earlier? Those doors came down because of your magic. They weren’t opened by anyone on the inside.” Persephone looked away. “Don’t be embarrassed, my dear. It happens to the best of us.” Persephone knew her emotions were tied to her powers. Flowers sprouted when she was angry, and vines curled around Hades in moments of passion without warning. Then there was Minthe, whose insulting words had resulted in her transformation into a mint plant and Adonis who she’d threatened in the Garden of the Gods by turning his limbs into vines. Not to mention the destruction of her mother’s greenhouse. “Okay, so I have a problem,” Persephone admitted. “How do I control it?” “With practice,” Hecate said. “And lots of meditation. The more often you do it, the more you—and your magic—will benefit.” Persephone frowned. “I hate meditating.” “Have you ever tried it?” “Yes, and it’s boring. All you do is...sit.” The corner of Hecate’s mouth lifted. “Your perspective is wrong. The point of meditation is to gain control—are you not hungry for control, Persephone?” Hecate’s voice dipped low, tinged with seduction. Persephone couldn’t deny that she was eager for what the goddess was offering. She wanted control over everything—her magic, her life, her future. “I’m listening,” Persephone said. Hecate’s smile was impish, and she continued. “Meditation means focusing your attention moment by moment rather than getting caught up in the things that plague you—the things that drown you, the things that cause your magic to create a shield around you.” Hecate led Persephone through several meditations, guiding her to focus on her breathing. She imagined this might be peaceful if she could keep her mind from wandering to Hades. She swore on two occasions he was behind her. She could feel his breath on her neck, the soft scrape of his beard against her cheek as he whispered words against her skin. I have thought of you all day. A thrill shivered through her and her core tightened. The way you taste, the feel of my cock slipping inside you, the way you moan when I fuck you. Persephone bit her lip, and heat gushed between her legs. I want to fuck you so hard your screams reach the ears of the living. Her breath escaped in a harsh gasp, and she opened her eyes. When she looked at Hecate, the goddess arched a knowing brow. “On second thought, let’s blow some things up.” *** “I’m going to be late!” Persephone threw off her covers and jumped from bed. Hades groaned, stretching his arm across the sheets, reaching for her. “Come back to bed,” he said, sleepily. She ignored him, running around his bedroom in search of her things. She found her purse on a chair, her shoes under the bed, and her clothes were wrapped up in the bedsheets. She untangled them, and once they were free, Hades snatched them from her hands. “Hades—” she growled, lunging for him. His hands clamped down her on her waist, and he rolled, pinning her beneath him. She laughed, squirming. “Hades, stop! I’m going to be late and it’s already your fault.” He had made good on his promise, returning to the Underworld around three in the morning. When he slipped into bed behind her, he’d kissed her goodnight and hadn’t stopped. After, she’d fallen into a deep sleep, hitting the snooze button when her alarm went off to wake her. “I’ll take you,” he said, bending to kiss her neck. “I can get you there in seconds.” “Hmm,” she said, pressing her palms against his chest. “Thanks, but I prefer taking the long way.” He arched a brow and gave her a menacing look before rolling off. She got to her feet again, holding up her wrinkled clothes and frowned. “Allow me to help,” Hades said and snapped his fingers, manifesting a tailored black dress and heels. She looked down, smoothing her hands over the fabric which had a faint shimmer. “Black isn’t my usual color choice,” she said. Hades smirked. “Humor me,” he said. Once she was ready, he insisted she accept a ride from his driver, which was how she ended up in the back of Hades’ black Lexus. Antoni, a cyclops and a servant to the God of the Dead, was in the driver’s seat whistling a song Persephone recognized from Apollo’s White Raven album. Despite not being a fan of the god’s music, she’d spent Friday night celebrating her best friend, Lexa Sideris’ birthday at the god’s club where his songs were on a constant rotation. She now felt she knew them all by heart, which only made her distaste for them stronger. She did her best to ignore Apollo’s incessant falsetto and was soon distracted by a series of messages from Lexa. The first one read: You’re officially famous. A tidal wave of anxiety gripped her as her best friend sent several links to ‘breaking news’ from outlets all over New Greece, and they were all about her and Hades. She clicked on the first link, then the next, and the next. Most of the articles rehashed details of her public reunion with Hades, including incriminating photos. She blushed seeing reminders of that day. She hadn’t expected the King of the Dead to appear in the Upperworld, and when she’d seen him, she thought her heart would explode. She ran to him, jumped into his arms and coiled around him like she belonged there. Hades’ hands pressed into her bottom and their lips locked in a kiss she could still feel. She should have seen the media storm coming, but after Lexa’s birthday party, she’d spent the weekend in the Underworld, sequestered to Hades’ bedchamber, exploring, teasing, submitting. She hadn’t thought twice about the state of the Upperworld once she’d left. With images like these, it was hard to deny speculation about their relationship. It was the last message she received that scared her the most: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HADES’ LOVER. It was her worst nightmare. She scanned the article, relieved to discover there wasn’t any information that would reveal her as the daughter of Demeter or a goddess, but it was still creepy. It said that she was from Olympia, that she had started attending New Athens University four years ago, began with a major in botany and ended with a major in journalism. There were a few quotes from students who claimed to her ‘know her’—gems like, “You could tell she was really smart” and “She was always really quiet” and “She read a lot.” The article also detailed a timeline of her life that included her internship at New Athens News, her articles about Hades, and their reconciliation outside The Coffee House. “Onlookers say they weren’t sure of Hades’ motives when he materialized in the Upperworld, but it appeared he was there to make amends with the journalist, Persephone Rosi, which begs the question: when did their romance begin?” Persephone recognized the irony of her situation—she was an investigative journalist. She loved research. She loved getting to the bottom of an issue, exposing facts, and saving mortals from the wrath of gods, demi-gods, and themselves. But this was different. This was her personal life. She knew how the media worked—she was now a mystery to be solved, and those who investigated her background were a threat to everything she’d worked so hard for. A threat to her freedom. I know you’re freaking out right now, Lexa texted. Don’t. That’s easy for you to say. Your name isn’t plastered across headlines. She responded with: Technically, it isn’t your name—it’s Hades’. She rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to be someone’s possession. She wanted her own identity, to be credited for her hard work, but dating a god took that away. Another thought occurred to her—what would her boss say? Demetri Aetos was a great supervisor. He believed in the truth and reporting on it no matter the consequences. He’d fired Adonis for calling Persephone a bitch and stealing her work. He’d recognized the stress she was under when it came to writing about Hades, and he’d told her she didn’t have to keep writing about him if she didn’t want to...but that was before he knew she was dating the God of the Dead. Would there be consequences? Gods, she had to stop thinking about this. She focused on her phone and texted Lexa back. Stop trying to avoid the BEST news of the day. Congrats on your first day! Lexa had been hired to plan events for The Cypress Foundation, Hades non-profit organization. She’d learned about it shortly after the announcement of the Halcyon Project. Lexa had been offered the job on her birthday. "She would have gotten the job anyway," Hades had said when Persephone asked if he'd made it happen. "She is a great fit." Thanks, my love! I’m so excited! Lexa texted. “We’re here, my lady.” Antoni’s words drew her attention to the Acropolis. Persephone’s eyes widened and her stomach knotted when she looked out the window. A crowd had gathered outside of the one-hundred-and-one story building. Security had stepped in to control them, erecting barriers. Several confused employees made their way inside amidst a screaming crowd. Persephone knew they were there for her, and she was glad the windows of Hades’ car were virtually black, making it impossible for anyone to see inside. Still, she slid lower in her seat, groaning. “Oh no.” Antoni raised a brow at her in the rearview mirror. “Is something wrong, my lady?” She met his gaze, almost confused by the question. Of course, something is wrong! The media, that crowd, they were threatening everything she’d worked so hard for. “Can you drop me off around the block?” Persephone asked. Antoni frowned. “Lord Hades instructed you were to be dropped off at the Acropolis.” “Lord Hades isn’t here and, as you can see, that is not ideal,” she said, grinding her teeth. Then she took a breath to calm herself. “Please?” The cyclops relented and did as she instructed. In the time it took them to get there, Persephone glamoured-up a pair of sunglasses and pulled her hair into a bun. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it would get her farther than flashing her face to passerby’s. Antoni glanced at her again and offered, “I can walk you to the door.” “No, that’s okay, Antoni, thank you.” The monster shifted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable. “Hades won’t like this.” She met Antoni’s gaze in the mirror. “You won’t tell him, will you?” “It would be best, my lady. Lord Hades would provide you with a driver to take you to work and pick you up, and an Aegeus for protection.” She didn’t need a driver and she didn’t need a guard. “Please?” she begged Antoni. “Don’t tell Hades.” She needed him to understand. She would only feel like a prisoner, something she’d been trying to escape for over eighteen years. It took the cyclops some time to cave, but eventually, he nodded. “If you wish, my lady, but the first time something goes wrong, I’m calling the boss.” Fine. She could work with that. She patted Antoni on the shoulder. “Thank you, Antoni.” She left the safety of the car and kept her head down as she walked in the direction of the Acropolis. The roar of the crowd amplified as she neared, and she paused when she was within view—it had grown. “Gods,” she moaned. “You really got yourself into a pickle,” a voice said from over her shoulder. She spun and found a handsome, blue-eyed god standing behind her. Hermes. Over the last few months, he had become one of her favorite gods. He was handsome, funny, and encouraging. Today, he was dressed like a mortal. Well, for the most part. He still looked unnaturally beautiful with his golden curls and glowing, bronzed skin. His outfit of choice was a pink polo and dark jeans. “A...pickle?” she asked, confused. “It’s an expression the mortals use when they find themselves in trouble. You haven’t heard of it?” “No,” she answered, but that wasn’t surprising. She’s spent eighteen years in a glass prison. She hadn’t learned a lot of things. “What are you doing here?” “Saw the news,” he said, grinning. “You and your boy-toy are official.” Persephone glared. “Man-toy?” he offered. She still glared. “Okay, fine. God-toy, then.” She gave up and sighed, burying her face in her hands. “I’ll never be able to go anywhere again.” “That’s not true,” Hermes said. “You just won’t be able to go anywhere without being mobbed.” “Has anyone ever told you you’re not helpful?” “No, not really. I mean, I am the Messenger of the Gods and all.” “Weren’t you replaced by email?” Hermes pouted. “Now who’s not being helpful?” Persephone peered around the corner of the building again. She felt Hermes chin rest atop her head as he followed her gaze. “Why don’t you just teleport inside?” he asked. “I’m trying to maintain my mortal façade, which means no magic on Earth.” She didn’t really feel like explaining that she was training to control her magic. “That’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t you want to walk down that enticing runway?” “What about normal, mortal life don’t you understand?” “All of it?” Of course, he didn’t. Unlike her, Hermes had always existed as an Olympian. In fact, he’d begun his life the same way he lived it now—mischievously. “Look, if you aren’t going to help—” “Help? Are you asking?” “Not if it means I owe you a favor,” Persephone said quickly. Gods had everything: wealth, power, immortality—their currency was the currency favors, which were, essentially, a contract, the details to be decided at a future time, and unavoidable. She’d rather die. “Not a favor then,” he said. “A date.” She offered the god an annoyed look. “Do you want Hades to gut you?” “I want to party with my friend,” Hermes countered, folding his arms over his chest. “So gut me.” She stared at him, feigning suspicion, before smiling, “Deal.” The god gave a dazzling smile. “How’s Friday?” “Get me into that building and I’ll check my schedule.” He grinned. “On it, Sephy.” Hermes teleported into the middle of the crowd and people screamed like they were dying. Hermes ate it up, signing autographs and posing for pictures, all the while, Persephone crept along the walkway and entered the Acropolis unseen. She bolted for the elevators, keeping her head down as she waited with a group of people. She knew they were staring, but it didn’t matter. She was inside, she had avoided the crowd, and now she could get to work. When she arrived on her floor, the new receptionist, Helen, greeted her. She had replaced Valerie, who had moved up a few floors to work for Oak and Eagle Creative, Zeus’s marketing company. Helen was younger than Valerie and still in school, which meant she was eager to please and cheery. She was also very beautiful with eyes as blue as sapphires, cascading blond hair, and perfect pink lips. Mostly, though, she was just really nice. Persephone liked her. “Good morning, Persephone!” she said in a sing-song voice. “I hope getting here wasn’t too difficult for you.” “No, not difficult at all,” she managed to keep her voice even. That was probably the second worst lie she had ever told, next to the one where she promised her mother she’d stay away from Hades. “Thank you, Helen.” “You have already received several calls this morning. If they were about a story I thought you’d be interested in, I transferred them to voicemail, but if they called to interview you, I took a message. She held up a ridiculous stack of colorful sticky notes. “Do you want any of these?” Persephone stared at the stack of notes. “No, thank you, Helen. You really are the best.” She grinned. Just as Persephone started toward her desk, Helen called to her, “Oh, and before you go, Demetri has asked to see you.” Dread grew heavy and hard in her stomach, as if someone had dropped a stone straight down her throat. She swallowed, managing to smile at the girl. “Thank you, Helen.” Persephone crossed the workroom floor, flanked by perfectly lined desks, stowed her things and grabbed a cup of coffee before approaching Demetri’s office. She stood in the doorway, not ready to call attention to herself. Her boss sat behind his desk looking at his tablet. Demetri was a handsome, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He liked colorful clothing and patterned neckties. Today, he wore a bright red shirt and a blue bowtie with white polka dots. A stack of newspapers lay on the desk in front of him bearing headlines like: IS LORD HADES IN RELATIONSHIP WITH A MORTAL? JOURNALIST CAUGHT KISSING GOD OF THE DEAD. MORTAL WHO SLANDERED KING OF THE UNDERWORLD IN LOVE? Demetri must have felt her staring because he finally looked up from his tablet, the article he was reading reflected off his black-framed glasses. She noted the title. It was another piece about her. “Persephone. Please, come in. Close the door.” That stone in her stomach was suddenly heavier. Shutting herself in Demetri’s office was like walking right back into her mother’s greenhouse—anxiety built, and she felt fear at the thought of being punished. Her skin grew hot and uncomfortable, her throat constricted, her tongue thickened...she was going to suffocate. This is it. She thought. He is going to fire me. She found herself frustrated that he was drawing it out. Why invite her to sit? Act like it had to be a conversation? She took a deep breath and sat on the edge of her chair. “What did you do?” she asked, glancing at the pile of newspapers. “Pick one up on every block?” “Couldn’t help it,” he said, smirking. “The story was fascinating.” Persephone glared. “Did you need something?” she asked finally, hoping to change the subject—hoping that the reason he called her into his office had nothing to do with this morning’s headlines. “Persephone,” Demetri said, and she cringed at the gentle tone his voice had taken. Whatever was coming, it wasn’t good. “You have a lot of potential and you have proven you’re willing to fight for the truth, which I appreciate.” He paused and her body stayed tense, preparing for the blow he was about to deliver. “But,” she said, guessing the direction of this conversation. Demetri looked even more sympathetic. “You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to,” he said. She blinked, brows furrowing. “Ask what?” “For an exclusive. On your relationship with Hades.” The dread crawled up her stomach, and spread, sizzling in her chest and lungs and she felt the heat abruptly leave her face. “Why do you have to ask?” Her voice was tight, and she tried to stay calm, but her hands were already shaking and squeezing her coffee cup. “Per—” “You said you wouldn’t ask if you didn't have to,” she stopped him. She was tired of him saying her name. Tired of how long it was taking him to get to the point. “So why are you asking?” “It came from the top,” he answered. “It was very clear that you either offer us your story or you don’t have a job here anymore.” “The top?” she echoed, and paused for a moment, searching for a name. After a moment, it came to her. “Kal Stavros?” Kal Stavros was a mortal. He was the CEO of Epik Communications—which owned New Athens News. Persephone didn’t know much about him except that he was a tabloid favorite. Mostly, because he was beautiful—his name literally meant crowned the most beautiful. “Why would the CEO request an exclusive?” “It’s not every day the girlfriend of the God of the Dead works for you,” Demetri said. “Everything you touch will turn to gold.” “Then let me write something else,” she said. “I have a voicemail and an inbox full of leads.” It was true. The messages had started pouring in the moment she published her first article on Hades. She’d slowly been sorting through them, organizing them into folders based on the god they criticized. She could write about any Olympian, even her mother. “You can write something else,” Demetri said. “But I’m afraid we’ll still need that exclusive.” “You can’t be serious,” was all she could think to say, but Demetri’s expression told her otherwise. She tried again. “This is my personal life.” Her boss’s eyes dropped to the stack of papers on his desk. “And it became public.” “I thought you said you would understand if I wanted to cease writing about Hades?” She noted that Demetri’s shoulders fell, and it made her feel better that he was at least a little defeated by this, too. “My hands are tied, Persephone,” he answered. There was a stretch of silence, and then she asked, “That’s it? I have no say in this?” “You have your choices. I need the article by next Friday.” That was it—she was dismissed. She stood and made her way back to her desk and sat. Her head spun as she thought of ways to get out of this situation, other than writing the article or quitting. Working for New Athens News had been her dream since she’d decided to go into journalism her Freshman year of college. She believed completely in their mantra of telling the truth and exposing injustice. Now she wondered if all of that was just a lie. She wondered what Hades would say if she told him that the CEO of Epik Communications had demanded a story on them, but also recognized that she didn’t want Hades to fight her battles. She also despised the fact that she knew they would listen to Hades because of his status as an ancient Olympian and not her—someone they presumed was a mortal woman. No, she would figure this out on her own and she was certain of one thing—Kal would regret his threat. Persephone didn’t look up from her computer after leaving Demetri’s office. Despite how focused she appeared, she was aware of their curious stares, they felt like spiders skittering across her skin. She focused harder, combing through hundreds of messages in her inbox and listening to voicemails from people who ‘had a story for her.’ Most were about how Zeus and Poseidon had turned their mother/sister/aunt into a wolf/swan/cow for nefarious reasons, and Persephone found herself wondering how Hades was related to these the two. Lexa checked in during lunch, sending a text. You doing okay? No, things got worse, Persephone texted back. ???? I’ll tell you later. Too much to text. Wanna get drunk? Lexa asked. She laughed. We have to work tomorrow, Lex. I’m just trying to be a good friend. Persephone smiled and admitted, Maybe a little drunk, then. Plus, we need to celebrate YOUR first day with the Cypress Foundation. How’s it going? Amazing,” Lexa replied. “There is a lot to learn, but it’s going to be amazing. Persephone managed to avoid Demetri for the rest of the day. Helen was the only one who engaged her in conversation, and that was to tell her she had mail, which included a pink envelope. When Persephone opened it, she found it full of crudely cut paper hearts. “Did you see who put this in my mailbox?” she asked Helen. There was no return address and no stamp. Whoever sent it hadn’t mailed it. The girl shook her head. “It was there this morning.” Weird, she thought, tossing the mess into the garbage. At the end of the day, Persephone took the elevator to the first floor and found the crowd still outside. She considered her options. She could just exit through the front and brave the mob. Security would give her escort, but only as far as the pavement, unless she called Antoni for a ride. She knew the cyclops was willing enough, but his loyalty to her would wane if he saw these people were still waiting for her to leave work, and she really, really didn’t want an Aegis. There was also the slight chance that her magic would respond if challenged, and she wasn’t willing to risk exposing herself, which also ruled out teleportation. That left her with only one other option—finding another way out of the building. There were other exits, it was just a matter of finding one that wasn’t being stalked by rabid fans. She sounded paranoid, but she was informed. Admirers of gods would do anything for a glimpse, a touch, a taste of the Divine and that included their significant others. She turned and set off down the hallway, away from the masses, in search of another exit. She considered leaving through the parking garage but didn’t like the possibility of being cornered by a bunch of strangers in a place that was dark and smelled like oil and piss. Maybe a fire exit, she thought, even if it set off an alarm. The doors weren’t accessible from the outside, so it was unlikely anyone would wait by one. Excited by the idea of getting home and spending the evening with Lexa after this stressful day, she quickened her pace. Rounding a corner, she slammed into a body. She didn’t look up to see who it was, fearing they might recognize her. “Sorry,” she muttered, pushing away and hurrying for the exit ahead. “I wouldn’t go out that door if I were you.” A voice stopped her just as her palms touched the metal handle. She turned, meeting a pair of grey eyes. They were housed in the thin, handsome face of a man with a mop of unruly hair, sharp cheekbones, and full lips. He was dressed in a grey janitor’s jumpsuit. She had never seen him before. “Because the door has an alarm?” she asked. “No,” he answered. “Because I just came in that door and if you’re the woman that’s been in the news the last three days, I think the people outside are there for you.” She sighed, frustrated, and added in a desolate tone. “Thanks for the warning.” She started down the adjoining hallway when the man called to her. “If you need help, I can get you out of here.” Persephone was skeptical. “How, exactly?” The corners of his lips lifted, but it was like he had forgotten how to smile. “You’re not going to like it.” CHAPTER III - A TOUCH OF INJUSTICE He was right. She hated it. “I’m not getting in that thing.” ‘That thing’ was a tilt truck full of garbage. She was wrong when she said she didn’t want the smell of oil and piss. She’d take it, so long as it didn’t mean bathing in rancid trash. The janitor led her to the basement, a trek that had her feeling uneasy and clutching her apartment keys tight. This is how people are murdered, she thought, and then quickly reminded herself that she watched too much true crime. The basement was full of various things—extra furniture and artwork, a laundry room, an industrial kitchen, and a maintenance room where she stood now, staring at her ‘get-away vehicle’, as the man had started to refer to it. He seemed pretty amused now. “It’s either this or you walk out the door,” he said. “Your choice.” “How do I know you won’t wheel me into that waiting crowd?” “Look, you don’t have to get in the cart. I just thought you might like to go home sometime tonight. As for me outing you, I’m not really interested in seeing anyone get hurt for their association with the gods.” There was something in the way he spoke that made her think he’d been wronged by them, but she didn’t press. She stared at him for a moment, biting her lip. “Okay fine,” she grumbled finally. The man helped her into the cart, and she settled into the space he’d created for her. Holding a bag of trash aloft, he looked at her questioningly. “Ready?” “As ready as I’ll ever be,” Persephone said. He arranged the bags over her, and suddenly she was in the dark and the cart was moving. The rustle of plastic grated against her ears and she held her breath so she didn’t have to smell rot and mold. The contents of the bags dug into her back, and each time the wheels hit a crack in the floor, the cart jostled, and the plastic grazed her like snake’s skin. She wanted to vomit but held it together. “This is your stop,” she heard the janitor say, lifting the bags he used to hide her. Persephone was greeted by a blast of fresh air as she rose from the dark pit. The man helped her out, awkwardly grasping her waist to set her on her feet. The contact made her cringe, and she stepped away, unsteady on her feet. He had taken her to the end of an alleyway that let out onto Pegasus Street, from here she could get to her apartment in about twenty minutes. “Thank you…” she said. “Um…what was your name?” “Pirithous,” he supplied and held out his hand. “Pirithous,” she took his hand. “I’m Persephone...I guess you already knew that.” He ignored her comment and just said, “It’s nice to meet you, Persephone.” “I owe you, for the getaway car.” “No, you don’t,” he said quickly. “I’m not a god. I don’t extract a favor for a favor.” He definitely has a history with the Divine, she thought, frowning. “I just meant that I would bring you cookies.” The man offered a dazzling smile, and in that moment, beneath the exhaustion and the sadness, she thought she could see the person he used to be. “See you tomorrow?” she asked. He gave her the strangest look, chuckling a little and said, “Yeah, Persephone. I’ll see you tomorrow.” *** By the time Persephone arrived home, the apartment smelled like popcorn and Lexa’s music blared throughout the house. It wasn’t the kind you could dance to—it was the kind that could summon clouds and rain and darkness. The music cast its own spell, drawing on darker thoughts—revenge against Kal Stavros. Lexa was waiting in the kitchen. She had already changed into her pajamas—a set that showed off her tattoos—the phases of the moon on her bicep, a key wrapped in hemlock on her left forearm, an exquisite dagger on her right hip, and Hecate’s wheel on her left upper arm. Her thick, black hair was piled on top of her head. She had a bottle of wine in hand, and two empty glasses waiting. “There you are,” Lexa said, pinning Persephone with those piercing blue eyes. She indicated to the bottle of wine. “I got your favorite.” Persephone smiled. “You’re the best.” “I thought I was going to have to file a missing person’s report.” Persephone rolled her eyes. “I’m only thirty minutes late.” “And not answering your phone,” Lexa pointed out. She’d been so distracted trying to get out of the Acropolis and make it home unnoticed, she hadn’t even bothered to retrieve her phone from her purse. She did so now and found four missed calls and several texts from Lexa. Her best friend had started by asking if she was on her way, if she was okay, and then resorted to sending random emojis just to get her attention. “If you really thought I was in trouble, I doubt you’d have sent me a million emojis.” Lexa smirked as she uncorked the wine. “Or, I cleverly thought to annoy your kidnapper.” Persephone took a seat opposite Lexa at the kitchen bar and sipped her wine. It was a rich and flavorful cabernet, and it instantly took the edge off her nerves. “Seriously though, you can’t be too careful. You’re famous now.” “I’m not famous, Lex.” “Uh, did you read any of the news articles I sent you? People are obsessed.” “Hades is famous, not me.” “And you by association,” she argued. “You’re all anyone at work wanted to talk about today—who you were, where you were from.” Persephone groaned. “You didn’t say anything about me, did you?” It was no secret that Lexa was Persephone’s best friend. “You mean that I’ve known you’ve been sleeping with Hades for about six months and that you’re a goddess masquerading as a mortal?” Lexa’s tone was light. “I haven’t been sleeping with Hades for six months.” Persephone felt the need to defend herself. It was Lexa’s turn to narrow her eyes. “Okay, five months, then.” Persephone glared. “Look, I’m not blaming you. There are few women who wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep with Hades.” “Thanks for the reminder,” Persephone shot back, rolling her eyes. “It’s not like he will. It’s his fault your relationship is such big news, anyway. As far as the media is concerned, you are his first serious partner.” Except the reality was much different, and while Persephone knew there had been other women in Hades’ life, she didn’t know the details. She wasn’t sure she wanted to. She thought of Minthe and shuddered. Persephone took a sip of her wine. “I want to talk about you. How was your first day?” “Oh, Persephone,” she gushed. “It really is a dream. Did you know the Halcyon Project is projected to treat five thousand people in its first year?” She didn’t, but that was amazing. “And Hades gave me a tour and introduce me to everyone.” Persephone couldn’t really explain how that made her feel, but it didn’t feel good. The best way to explain it was...she felt embarrassed. She felt like she should have known Hades was going to be there on Lexa’s first day, but the God of the Dead hadn’t said anything about that this morning when he helped her get ready. “That was nice of him,” she commented distractedly. “Apparently he does it for every new employee. I mean, I knew Hades wasn’t like other gods, but to greet his staff the way he did?” Lexa shook her head. “It’s just...so evident he loves you.” Persephone’s gaze rose to meet hers. “Why do you say that?” “Everywhere I looked today I could see how he was inspired by you.” Persephone knitted her brows. “What do you mean?” Lexa shrugged. “It’s...a little hard to explain. He just...uses some of the words you use when he talks about helping people. He talks about hope and forgiveness and second chances.” The more Lexa talked; the more pressure Persephone felt in her chest. Her best friend giggled. “Then there are the...physical things.” Persephone raised a brow, and Lexa burst into laughter. “No, not that! Physical things like...pictures.” “Pictures?” It was Lexa’s turn to look confused. “Yeah. He had pictures of you in his office. Didn’t you know that?” No, she didn’t know Hades had an office at The Cypress Foundation, much less pictures of her. Where did he get pictures of her? She didn’t have pictures of him. Suddenly, Persephone wasn’t interested in talking about this anymore. “Can I ask you something?” Lexa said. Persephone waited, and sort of dreaded the question. “You’ve always wanted notoriety for your work, so what’s the problem with all this attention?” Persephone sighed. “I want to be respected in my field,” she said. “Now I just feel like a possession of Hades. Every article is Hades this and Hades that. No one even uses my name. They call me mortal.” “They would use your name if they knew you were a goddess,” Lexa supplied. “And I would have recognition for my Divinity and not my work.” “What’s so wrong about that?” she asked. “You might be known for your Divinity initially, but it could lead to being known for your work.” Persephone couldn’t explain why it was important for her to be known for writing, it just was. She’d spent her whole life being horrible at the one thing she was born to be, and despite that not being her fault, she’d worked really hard in college. She wanted someone to see that hard work, and not just because she wrote about and dated Hades. “If I were you, I’d leave this life without a second thought,” Lexa said. Persephone blanched, surprised. “It’s way more complicated than that, Lex.” “What’s so complicated about immortality and wealth and power?” Everything, Persephone wanted to say. Instead, she asked, “Is it really so wrong to want to live an unassuming, mortal life?” “No, except that you also want to date Hades,” Lexa pointed out. “I can have both,” she argued. She’d had both until a few days ago. “That’s when Hades was your secret,” Lexa said. And even though she and Hades had neither confirmed nor denied media speculation, she was going to have to reveal her relationship if she wanted to keep her job. Persephone frowned. “Hey,” Lexa said, pouring more wine into Persephone’s glass. “Don’t worry about it too much. Pretty soon they’ll become obsessed with some other god and some other mortal. Maybe Sybil will decide she actually loves Apollo.” Persephone wasn’t so sure about that. The last time they’d talked about it, Sybil had expressed that she wasn’t interested in a relationship with the God of Music. “I’m going to shower,” Persephone said. The thought of scalding hot water sounded better and better. She didn’t want to feel this day on her skin any longer, not to mention, she still felt like she was surrounded by trash. “When you’re finished, we’ll watch a movie,” Sybil said. Persephone took her wine and purse into the bedroom. Dropping her bag on the bed, she moved into the bathroom and turned on the shower. As the water heated, she sipped on her wine before setting the glass aside so she could unzip her dress. She paused when she felt Hades’ magic surround her. It was a distinct feeling—a tinge of winter on the air. She closed her eyes and prepared to vanish. It wouldn’t be the first time Hades had taken her to the Underworld without any notice, but instead, a hand touched beneath her chin and lips closed over hers. He kissed her like they hadn’t made love into the early hours of the morning, and when he pulled away, Persephone was breathless, the stress of her day forgotten. Hades palm was warm against her cheek, and he brushed her lips with his thumb, dark eyes searching. “Troubled, darling?” She narrowed her gaze, suspicious. “You followed me today, didn’t you?” Hades didn’t even blink. “Why would you think that?” “You insisted Antoni take me to work this morning, most likely because you already knew what the media was reporting.” Hades shrugged. “I didn’t want to worry you.” “So you let me walk into a mob?” He raised a knowing brow. “Did you walk into that mob?” “You were there!” She accused. “I thought we agreed. No invisibility.” “I wasn’t,” he answered. “Hermes was.” Damn you, Hermes. She’d forgotten to extract a promise from the God of Mischief not to tell Hades about the crowd. He’d probably waltzed into Nevernight with a smile on his face to report what happened. “You could always teleport,” Hades offered. “Or I can provide an Aeg—” “I don’t want an Aegis,” she stopped him. “And I’d rather not use magic not...in the Upperworld.” “Unless you’re exacting revenge?” “That’s not fair. You know my magic has become more and more unpredictable. And I’m not eager to be exposed as a goddess.” “Goddess or not, you are my lover.” She didn’t mean to, but she wasn’t a fan of that word. She stiffened, and she knew by the way Hades’ eyes narrowed, he had noticed. He continued, “It is only a matter of time before someone with a vendetta against me tries to harm you. I will keep you safe.” Persephone shivered. She hadn’t thought about that. “You really think someone would try to harm me?” “Darling, I have judged human nature for a millennium. Yes.” “Can’t you…I don’t know…erase people’s memories? Make them forget about all of this.” She waved her hand between them. “It is too late for that,” he paused a moment and then asked, “What is so terrible about being known as my lover?” “Nothing,” she said quickly. “It’s just...that word.” “What’s wrong with lover?” “It sounds so…fleeting. Like I am nothing but your sex slave.” One corner of his lips curled. “What am I to call you, then? You have forbidden the use of my queen and my lady.” “Titles make me…uncomfortable,” she said. She wasn’t sure how else to explain why she’d asked him not to call her my queen or my lady, but it added up to the fact that they were two labels she could get used to, and that meant she was setting herself up for potential disappointment. The thoughts made her guilty, but the echoes of the heartbreak she’d experienced while they were separated made her cautious. “It’s not that I don’t want to be known as your lover…but there has to be a better word.” “Girlfriend?” Hades supplied. She couldn’t suppress the laugh that tore from her throat. “What’s wrong with girlfriend?” He asked, glowering. “Nothing,” she said quickly. “It just seems so…insignificant.” Their relationship was too intense, too passionate, too ancient for her to merely be his girlfriend. But maybe that was just how she felt. The tension eased from Hades’ features, and he drew his finger under her chin. “Nothing is ever insignificant when it comes to you,” he said. They stared at each other, and the air was heavy. Persephone itched to reach for him—to bring his lips to hers, to taste him. All she had to do was close the gap between them and they would ignite—fall so deep in their passion, nothing would exist beyond their skin. A knock at her door tore her from her thoughts and sent her heart into a frenzy. “Persephone! I’m ordering pizza. Any requests?” Lexa called. She cleared her throat. “N-no. Whatever you order is fine,” she replied through the door. “So, pineapple and anchovies. Got it.” Her heart was still hammering in her chest. There was a long pause on the other side of the door, and for a moment, Persephone thought Lexa had left, until she asked, “Are you okay?” Hades’ chuckled and leaned in, pressing his lips against her skin. Persephone exhaled, her head rolling back. “Yes.” Another long pause. “Did you even hear what I’m going to order?” “Just get cheese, Lexa!” “Okay, okay, I’m on it.” Persephone could tell by the tone of her voice, she was smiling. Persephone pushed against Hades’ chest and met his gaze. “You shouldn’t laugh.” “Why not? I can hear your heart beating. Are you afraid to be caught with your boyfriend?” Persephone rolled her eyes. “I think I preferred lover.” His laugh was a deep rumble. “You are not easy to please.” It was her turn to smile. “I would give you the chance, but I’m afraid I don’t have time.” Hades eyes darkened, and his hold on her tightened. “I don’t need a lot,” he said, hands twinning in her dress as if he wished to rip it from her body. “I could make you come in seconds. You won’t even have to get undressed.” She almost took the bait and challenged him to prove it, but then she remembered how he’d left her in the dining room the day before, and despite returning and making up for it, she wanted to punish him. “I’m afraid seconds will not due,” she said. “I’m owed pleasure—hours of it.” “Allow me to give you a preview, then.” He held her close, his arousal pressing into her softness, but she kept him at a distance, palms pressed against his hard chest. “Perhaps later,” she offered. He smiled. “I’ll take that as a promise.” With that, he vanished. Persephone showered and changed. When she left the room, Lexa was curled up on the couch. Persephone sat beside her, sharing Lexa’s blanket and the popcorn. “What movie are we watching?” “Pyramus and Thisbe,” she answered. It was a movie the pair had watched over and over, an ancient tale about forbidden love retold in modern times. “I’m just glad you didn’t say Titans After Dark.” “Hey! I like that show.” “The way they portray the gods is totally inaccurate.” “We know,” Lexa said. “They don’t do Hades justice, but if he has a problem with it, tell him it’s his own fault. He’s the one who’s refused to be photographed ...well, until recently.” They started the movie, and it opened by introducing the feuding families, locked in a war for territory. Pyramus and Thisbe were young and eager for fun. They met at a club, and under those fierce and hypnotic lights, they fell in love, later learning they were sworn enemies. They were in the middle of a tense scene between the families, the one where Thisbe’s brother dies, shot and killed by Pyramus, when the doorbell rang, surprising Persephone and Lexa. They exchanged a look. “It’s probably the pizza guy,” Lexa said. “I’ll get it,” Persephone was already throwing off the blanket. “Pause the movie!” “You’ve seen this a hundred times!” “Pause it!” then she threatened playfully. “Or I’ll turn you into basil.” Lexa cackled but paused the movie. “That actually might be cool.” Persephone opened the door. "Sybil!" She smiled wide, but excitement quickly gave way to suspicion. Something was wrong. Even dressed in pajamas and sporting a top knot, the blonde was a beauty. She stood under the pallid porch light, looking exhausted and like she'd been crying, mascara streaked down her face. “Can I come in?” It sounded like she had something stuck in her throat. “Yeah, of course.” "Is it the pizza?" Lexa called, walking into view. “Sybil!” That was when the girl burst into tears. Lexa and Persephone exchanged a look and quickly wrapped their arms around her as she sobbed. “It’s okay,” Persephone whispered, attempting to soothe her. She thought she could sense Sybil’s pain and confusion, something she had never perceived in another person before. The emotions were like shadows grazing her skin, flutters of sadness, strikes of jealousy, and an endless cold. Strange, Persephone thought. She pushed the feelings down, quashing them to focus on Sybil. The three stood like that for a while, embracing one another in a tight circle until Sybil began to collect herself. Lexa was the first to break form and poured Sybil a glass of wine while Persephone directed her to the living room and gave her a box of tissues. “I'm so sorry,” she finally managed to say, accepting the wine with shaking hands. “I had no other place to go.” “You’re always welcome,” Persephone said. “What happened?” Lexa asked. Her mouth quivered, and it took her a few moments to speak. “I’m...I’m not an oracle anymore.” “What?” Lexa asked. “How can you not be an oracle anymore?” Sybil had been born with certain prophetic gifts, including divination and prophecy. Persephone also knew that Sybil could see the Threads of Fate, which she had referred to as ‘colors’ when she’d told Persephone she and Hades were meant to be together. Sybil cleared her throat and took a deep breath, but even as she spoke, her voice broke. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry over this anymore.” “Sybil,” Persephone reached for her hand. “Apollo fired me and took my gift of prophecy away,” she explained. She laughed humorlessly, wiping her eyes as more tears slide down her cheeks. “Turns out you can’t continue to reject a god without consequences.” Persephone couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She recalled Sybil’s comments about her relationship with Apollo. Everyone, even her close friends Xeres and Aro, had assumed they were lovers, but Sybil had told her and Lexa that she wasn’t interested in a relationship with the God of the Music. “He wanted more from me than friendship and I refused. I’d heard about his previous relationships, all of them ended in disaster. Daphne, Cassandra, Hyakinthos…” “Let me get this straight,” Persephone said. “This….god-child got a little pissy because you wouldn’t date him and took your power away?” “Shh!” Sybil looked around, clearly afraid Apollo would appear and smite them. “You can’t say things like that, Persephone!” She shrugged. “Let him try to take revenge.” “You are fearless because you have Hades,” she said. “But you forget, gods have a habit of punishing those you care for most.” Sybil’s words made her frown and she suddenly felt less confident. “So you don’t have a job anymore?” Lexa asked. Because of her gifts, Sybil had been enrolled the College of the Divine. There, she’d learned to hone her power and had been chosen by Apollo specifically to become his public relations manager. Without her gift, the job Sybil had spent the last four years training for was not attainable. Even if she had retained her powers, Persephone wasn’t sure anyone would hire a disgraced oracle, especially one Apollo had fired. Apollo was the golden god. He’d been named Delphi Divine’s God of the Year seven years in a row, only losing the title once after Zeus struck the magazine’s building with lightning in protest. “He can’t do that!” Persephone exploded. She didn’t care how beloved the God of Music was, he didn’t deserve that respect if he punished people just because they didn’t want to date him. “He can do anything,” Sybil said. “He’s a god.” “That doesn’t make it right,” she argued. “Right, wrong, fair, unfair—it’s not really the world we live in, Persephone. The gods punish.” Those words made Persephone shudder, and the worst part was, she knew it was true. The gods used mortals as their playthings and cast them aside when they got angry or bored. Life was nothing to them because they had eternity. “I wouldn’t even mind being fired, but who will hire me now?” Sybil said, her voice desolate. “I just don’t know what to do. I can’t go home. My mother and father disowned me when I applied for the College of the Divine.” “You can work with me,” Lexa offered, looking at Persephone as if to say, can’t she? “I’ll ask Hades,” Persephone promised. “I’m sure they can use more help at the foundation.” “And you can stay with us,” Lexa added. “Until you are on your feet again.” Sybil looked skeptical. “I don’t want to inconvenience you.” Lexa scoffed. “You would not be an inconvenience. You can keep me company while Persephone’s in the Underworld. Hell, you can probably have her room. It’s not like she’s here most nights anyway.” Persephone gave Lexa a playful push and Sybil laughed. “I don’t want your room.” “You might as well crash there. Lexa’s not wrong.” “Of course, I’m not wrong. If I was sleeping with Hades, I wouldn’t be in my room, either.” Persephone reached for a pillow and smacked Lexa. It was the wrong thing to do. Lexa shrieked like a banshee and reached for a cushion swinging wildly. Persephone dodged the blow, which left Sybil to take the brunt of it. Lexa dropped the pillow. “Oh, my gods, Sybil, I am so sorry—” But Sybil took up a pillow, too, and smashed it into the side of Lexa’s face. It wasn’t long before the three were locked in battle, chasing one another around the living room, delivering and taking hits until they collapsed in a heap on the couch, breathless and giggling. Even Sybil seemed to be enjoying herself, the last few hours of her life momentarily forgotten. She sighed and said, “I wish all days were this happy.” “They will be,” said Lexa. “You live with us now.” By the time the pillows were returned to their place, the pizza had arrived. The delivery guy apologized profusely and explained that traffic had been backed up due to protests. “Protests?” Persephone asked. “It’s the Impious,” he said. “Protesting the upcoming Panhellenic Games.” “Oh.” The Impious were a group of mortals who rejected the gods, choosing fairness, freewill, and freedom over worship and sacrifice. Persephone wasn’t all that surprised that they’d showed up to protest the Games, but it was kind of unexpected, given that the Impious had kept a low profile for the last few years. She really hoped they stuck to peaceful protesting and didn’t escalate—a lot of people would be out and about for the festivities—Persephone, Lexa, and Sybil included. The girl’s settled down to finish their movie, ate pizza, and kept their distance from topics that involved Apollo, though that didn’t keep Persephone from trying to figure out how to help Sybil. Apollo’s actions were unacceptable, and didn’t she have an obligation to her readers to expose injustice? Especially when it came to the gods? And maybe, if the story was good enough, she wouldn’t need to write that exclusive. Hours later, Persephone was still awake and unable to move. Sybil’s head rested in her lap, and Lexa snored, fast asleep on the couch opposite them. After a moment, Sybil shifted and spoke in a sleepy whisper. “Persephone, I want you to promise me you won’t write about Apollo.” Persephone froze for a moment, holding her breath. “Why not?” “Because Apollo isn’t Hades,” she answered. “He didn’t care what people thought and was willing to listen to you. That’s not Apollo. Apollo covets his reputation. It’s as important to him as music.” “Then he shouldn’t have punished you,” Persephone answered. She felt Sybil’s hands curl into the blanket around them. “I’m asking you to not fight in my name. Promise.” Persephone didn’t respond. The problem was, she was asking for a promise, and when a god promised, it was binding, unbreakable. It didn’t matter that Sybil didn’t know of Persephone’s Divinity. She couldn’t do it. After a moment, Sybil looked up, meeting her gaze. “Persephone?” “I don’t make promises, Sybil.” The oracle frowned. “I was afraid you’d say that.” CHAPTER IV - A TOUCH OF WARNING Persephone lay awake, listening to Lexa’s shallow snoring and Sybil’s wheezing breath. It was three in the morning, and she had to be up in four hours, but she couldn’t stop thinking about everything that had happened today. She considered the pros and cons of writing the exclusive Demetri and Kal wanted. She supposed it was one way to control the information she released, except that she was being forced to offer up details of her personal life. Worse, they’d taken the choice away from her, and she hated that. But could she give up her dream job? She’d come to New Athens with dreams of freedom, success, and adventure. She’d had a taste of each, and just when she’d shook the chains of her mother’s custody, she found herself shackled with another restraint. Would the cycle never end? Then there was Sybil. Persephone couldn’t let Apollo get away with his treatment of the oracle. She couldn’t understand why Sybil didn’t want her to write about the God of Music. He needed to answer for his behavior. There was also a part of her that hoped an article about Apollo meant Demetri and Kal would be less interested in the story of her relationship with Hades. Persephone sighed. Her head was so full of thoughts—words piled up so high, it felt like they were pushing against her skull. She stood quietly and teleported to the Underworld, slipping into Hades bedchamber. If anyone was going to ease the tension in her head, it was the God of the Dead. She hadn’t expected to find him asleep. She’d begun to suspect he rarely did, except when she was around. He lay partially covered by silk sheets; his muscled chest contoured from the firelight of the hearth. His arms were over his head, as if he’d fallen asleep stretching. She reached to touch his face and was surprised when his hand bit down on her wrist. She yelped, more from fear than pain. Hades opened his eyes. “Fuck,” he cursed, sitting up lightning-fast, he lessened his hold on her wrist, and drew her to him. “Did I hurt you?” She would have answered, but he was pressing kisses to her skin, and each one sent a shock through her body. “Persephone?” he stared up at her, a myriad of emotions clouding his eyes. It was almost like he was despondent; his breath shallow and his brows drawn together. She smiled, brushing a piece of hair from his face. “I’m fine, Hades. You only scared me.” He kissed her palm and held her tight against him as he laid down. “I did not think you would come to me tonight.” She rested her head on his chest. He was warm and solid and right. “I can’t sleep without you,” she admitted, feeling completely ridiculous, but it was true. Hades palms soothed, running up and down her back. Now and then he paused, to squeeze her bottom. She wiggled against him, his erection growing harder between them. “That is because I keep you up so late.” She sat up, straddling him, and laced her fingers through his. “Not everything is about sex, Hades.” “No one said anything about sex, Persephone,” he pointed out. She raised a brow and rolled her hips. “I don’t need words to know you’re thinking about sex.” He chuckled, and his hands moved to her breasts. Her breath caught in her throat, and her fingers curled around his wrists like shackles. “I want to talk, Hades.” He arched a perfect brow. “Talk,” he said. “I can multitask...or have you forgotten?” He rose into a sitting position and captured a nipple between his teeth, teasing her through her shirt. She wanted to give in and let him explore. Her hands—traitorous hands—slide around his neck and tangled into his hair. He smelled like warm spice and she could practically taste his tongue, flavored with whiskey. “I don’t think you can multitask this time,” she said. “I know that look.” Hades pulled away long enough to ask, “What look?” She took his head between her hands. She thought to keep him from distracting her with his mouth, but his hands were moving under her shirt, over her skin, making her shiver. “That look,” she said, as if it explained everything. “The one you have now. Your eyes are dark but there’s something...alive behind them. Sometimes I think it’s passion, sometimes I think it’s violence. Sometimes I think it’s all of your lifetimes.” His eyes glittered and his hands fell to her thighs. “Hades,” she hissed his name, and he covered her mouth with his, shifting so that she was beneath him. His tongue slipped into her mouth. She’d been right about how he would taste, smokey and sweet. She wanted more and twined her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist. His lips left hers to explore the contours of her neck and breasts. Persephone tightened her hold around his waist to keep him from shifting lower. “Hades,” she breathed. “I said I wanted to talk.” “Talk,” he said again. “About Apollo,” she breathed. Hades froze and he growled—it was an unnatural sound, and it sent a shiver down her spine. He pulled away completely, no longer touching her. “Tell me why the name of my nephew is upon your lips?” “He’s my next project.” Hades blinked and she was certain she saw violence in his eyes. She hurried to continue. “He fired Sybil, Hades. For refusing to be his lover.” He stared, and his silence was angry. His lips were set tight and a vein pulsed in his forehead. He left the bed completely naked. For a moment, she watched him walk away—well-muscled ass and all. “Where are you going?” she demanded. “I can’t stay in our bed while you talk about Apollo.” She didn’t miss that he had called his bed our bed. That made her feel warm inside, except that she’d fucked it up by mentioning Apollo. She scrambled after him. “I’m only talking about him because I want to help Sybil!” Hades poured himself a drink. “What he’s doing is wrong, Hades. Apollo can’t punish Sybil because she rejected him.” “Apparently he can,” Hades said, taking a slow sip from his glass. “He has taken away her livelihood! She has nothing and will have nothing unless Apollo is exposed!” Hades drained his glass and poured another. After a stretch of tense silence, he said, “You cannot write about Apollo, Persephone.” “I’ve told you before, you can’t tell me who to write about, Hades.” The God of the Underworld sat his glass down with an audible click. “Then you should not have told me your plans,” he said. She guessed his next thought: You shouldn’t have mentioned Apollo in my bedchamber, either. His words fueled her anger, and she felt her power moving in her veins. “He won’t get away with this, Hades!” She didn’t add that she really needed this story—that it would provide a diversion for what her boss really wanted—a story about them. Hades must have sensed the change in her power, because when he spoke again, his words were careful and calm. “I’m not disagreeing with you, but you aren’t going to be the one to serve justice, Persephone.” “Who, if not me? No one else is willing to challenge him. The public adores him.” She didn’t understand how they could love Apollo and fear Hades. “All the more reason for you to be strategic,” Hades reasoned. “There are other ways to have your justice.” Persephone wasn’t sure she liked what Hades was insinuating. She glared at him. “What are you so afraid of? I wrote about you and look at the good that came out of it.” “I am a reasonable god,” he said. “Not to mention you intrigued me. I do not want Apollo intrigued by you.” Persephone didn’t care if Apollo became intrigued by her or not—the God of Music wouldn’t get anywhere with her. “You know I’ll be careful,” she said. “Besides, would Apollo really mess with what’s yours?” Hades lips thinned, and he held out his hand for her to take. “Come,” he said, sitting in a chair before the fire. She approached as if his words were magnetic and she were steel. Hades’ fingers wrapped around hers and he pulled her to him, her knees on either side of his thighs. Every curve melded to his hard frame. She kept his dark gaze as he spoke. “You do not understand the Divine. I cannot protect you from another god. It is a fight you would have to win on your own.” Persephone’s confidence wavered. There were a lot of rules that bound gods—promises and contracts and favors—and they all had one thing in common—they were unbreakable. “Are you saying you wouldn’t fight for me?” Hades sighed and brushed his finger along her cheek. “Darling, I would burn this world for you.” He kissed her fiercely, violently, leaving her lips raw. When he broke away, she was breathless, and his hands were pressed so firmly into her skin, it was like he was holding her bones. “I am begging you—do not write about the God of Music.” She found herself nodding, transfixed by the vulnerable look in Hades’ dark eyes. He hadn’t been near as desperate to stop her from writing about himself. “But what about Sybil?” she asked. “If I do not expose him, who will help her?” Hades eyes softened. “You cannot save everyone, my darling.” “I’m not trying to save everyone, just the ones who are wronged by the gods.” He studied her for a moment and then brushed a piece of her hair from her face. “This world does not deserve you.” “Yes, they do,” she answered. “Everyone deserves compassion, Hades. Even in death.” “But you are not talking about compassion,” he said, his thumb brushed her cheek. “You are hoping to rescue mortals from the punishment of gods. It is as vain as promising to bring the dead back to life.” “Because you have deemed it so,” she argued. Hades looked away, clenching his jaw. She had obviously struck a chord. Guilt made her stomach turn. She knew she was being unfair. The Underworld had rules and a balance of power she didn’t completely understand. She hadn’t meant to upset him, but she really wanted change. She reached for him, guiding his eyes back to hers. “I won’t write about Apollo,” she said. He relaxed a little, but his face was still hard. “I know you wish for justice, but trust me on this, Persephone.” “I trust you.” His expression was blank, and it felt a little like he didn’t believe her. That thought was fleeting as he lifted her into his arms, holding her gaze, and moving toward the bed. He sat her on the edge, helped her out of her clothes, and guided her to her back. He knelt between her legs, and his mouth descended lapping at the tight bundle of nerves at the apex of her thighs. Persephone arched off the bed, her head digging into the mattress, her hands tangling in the sea of sheets around her. She struggled to catch her breath. “Hades!” Her cries seemed to have no effect on him as he kept his languorous, torturous pace. Soon his fingers parted her hot flesh, joining his tongue. He stroked and stretched her, moving in tandem with her breathing until she found release. When he was finished, he sat back on his heels, brought his fingers to his lips, and sucked them clean. “You are my favorite flavor,” he said. “I could drink from you all day.” Hades gripped her hips and pulled her toward him, sliding into her in one slick thrust. She felt him in her blood and bones and soul. The friction built inside her, and soon her moans turned to screams. “Say my name,” Hades growled. Persephone clutched the silk beneath her. The sheets stuck to her skin, her body warm with perspiration. “Say it!” he commanded. “Hades!” she gasped. “Again.” “Hades.” “Pray to me,” he commanded. “Beg me to make you come.” “Hades.” She was out of breath--her words barely formed. “Please.” He thrust. “Please what?” Thrust. “Make me come.” Thrust. “Do it!” she screamed. They came together, and Hades collapsed on top of her, kissing her deeply, the taste of her still upon his lips. After a moment, he gathered her into his arms and teleported to the baths where they showered and worshipped one another again. With an hour to spare before she had to be up, Persephone laid down to rest. Hades stretched out beside her, holding her close. “Persephone?” Hades spoke, the scuff of his beard tickling her ear. “Hmm?” She was too tired to use words, eyes heavy with sleep. “Speak another’s name in this bed again and know you have assigned their soul to Tartarus.” She opened her eyes. She wanted to look at him, to see the violence in his gaze and chase it—why had this upset him so much? Did the God of the Underworld, Rich One, Receiver of Many, fear Apollo? After his warning, Hades relaxed, his breath grew even and calm. Reluctant to disturb his peace, she snuggled close and fell asleep. CHAPTER V - ROYAL TREATMENT Persephone relayed the disastrous conversation she’d had with Hades to Lexa at lunch the next day. They’d chosen a booth at the back of their favorite cafe, The Yellow Daffodil, that gave them relative privacy. Despite the roar of the restaurant, Persephone felt paranoid talking about Hades in public. She leaned over the table toward Lexa, whispering. “I’ve never seen him so…” Unyielding. So obstinate. He was usually willing to at least hear her out, but from the moment Apollo’s name had left her mouth, Hades had been finished with the conversation. “Hades has a point,” Lexa said, leaning back in her chair, crossing her legs. Persephone looked at her best friend, surprised she would side with the God of the Dead. “I mean, do you really think you can touch Apollo’s reputation? He’s the Golden Boy of New Athens.” “An honor he doesn’t deserve considering how he treats the men and women he ‘loves.’” “But...what if people don’t believe you, Persephone?” “I can’t worry about whether or not people will believe me, Lex.” The thought that Apollo’s victims would be ignored because of his popularity infuriated her, but what enraged her more was that she knew Lexa was right, there was a chance no one would believe her. “I know. I’m just saying...it might not play out like you think.” Persephone frowned, confused by her friend’s words. “And what do I think?” Lexa twisted her fingers together on the table in front of her and shrugged, finally lifting her gaze to Persephone’s. Her eyes looked more vivid today, probably due to the smokey shadow she wore. “I don’t know. I mean, you are literally hoping for reason from a god who can’t take rejection. It’s like you think you can magically change Apollo’s behavior with some words.” Persephone flinched, and noticed that Lexa’s eyes shifted to Persephone’s shoulder. In her peripheral, she saw green, and when she looked, a thread of vines had sprouted out of her skin. Persephone clapped a hand over them. Of all the times her magic had responded to her emotions, it had never manifested liked this. She pulled the vines free and blood spilled down her arm. “Oh, my gods!” Lexa shoved a wad of napkins into her hands and Persephone pressed them against her shoulder. “Are you okay?” “I’m fine.” “Has this ever happened before?” “No,” she said, peeling back the napkins to look at the wound the vines left behind. The gash was small, like she’d been scratched by a throne and the bleeding minimal. “Is that a goddess thing?” Lexa asked. “I don’t know.” She’d never seen her mother’s powers manifest this way, or Hades’ for that matter. Maybe it was just another example of how terrible she was at being a goddess. “Will you tell Hades?” The question surprised Persephone, and her gaze shot to Lexa’s. “Why would I tell him?” She listed the reasons, “Because it’s never happened to you before, because it looks painful, because it might have something to do with being the Goddess of Spring?” “Or it’s nothing,” Persephone said quickly. “Don’t worry about it, Lex.” A beat of silence passed between them before Lexa reached a hand across the table to draw Persephone’s attention. “You know I’m just worried about you, right? The Goddess of Spring sighed. “I know. Thank you.” There was more silence and then Lexa shrugged. “I guess none of this really matters. You already promised Hades you woul