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A Touch of Malice (Hades X Persephone #3)

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Persephone and Hades are engaged. In retaliation, Demeter summons a snowstorm that cripples New Greece, and refuses to lift the blizzard unless her daughter calls off her engagement. When the Olympians intervene, Persephone finds her future in the hands of ancient gods, and they are divided. Do they allow Persephone to marry Hades and go to war with Demeter or prohibit their union and take up arms against the God of the Dead?Nothing is certain but the promise of war.
Volume:
3
Year:
2021
Edition:
1
Publisher:
Independently published
Language:
english
Pages:
399
ISBN 13:
9798505408926
ISBN:
B08KQG5LZ9
Series:
Hades X Persephone
File:
EPUB, 1.55 MB
Download (epub, 1.55 MB)

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3 comments
 
shalma
Such a heartbreaking book
05 August 2021 (20:52) 
kloe
Preciso dele em português!!!
01 October 2021 (02:59) 
Leitoraamadora
Pessoal se vcs quiserem ler em portugues é só ir na google play livros baixar o epub lá , selecionar os paragrafos que ele traduz. espero ter ajudado;
06 October 2021 (00:55) 

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A Touch of Darkness

Year:
2019
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 610 KB
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Malcolm

Year:
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Language:
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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: 978-1-7357719-5-3(Paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-7357719-4-6(Hardback)

Copyright © 2021 Scarlett St. Clair

Cover Design by: Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com

All rights 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

v 1





DEDICATION



To the best Daddy in the whole, wide world.

Before you died, I got to tell you about all sorts of amazing things that were happening for me. We were FaceTiming and you smiled and said, “I am so proud.” Not long after, you’d test positive for COVID. I will always be thankful for our final call. I remember that you didn’t feel good, and I didn’t want to keep you long, but I wanted you to know I loved you—and that was our whole conversation. I miss you, I love you—over and over again.

The next morning, you crashed and went on the vent.

When I saw you in the hospital, I knew it was goodbye. You were struggling and yet, when I took your hand, you opened your beautiful eyes and smiled at me. The next time I saw you, I was picking up your ashes.

I’d give anything to hug you again, to hear your voice and your laugh. To receive a funny text message out of the blue, to rub your bald head and lean on your shoulder, but I know you’re still with me and that you are so proud. I owe my perseverance to you—the person who always believed in what everyone else thought was impossible.

REST IN PEACE

Freddie Lee Nixon

December 23, 1948-November 27, 2020





MORE BOOKS BY SCARLETT ST. CLAIR



A Touch of Darkness

A Game of Fate

A Touch of ; Ruin

When Stars Come Out





COMING SOON



A Game of Retribution

A Game of Gods

A Touch of Chaos

King of Battle and Blood





READING ORDER

Persephone’s POV

A Touch Of

Darkness*

A Touch Of Ruin*

A Touch Of Malice*





Hades’ POV

A Game Of Fate*

A Game Of

Retribution

A Game Of Gods

Dual POV

A Touch Of Chaos





*- released novels





CONTENT WARNING



This book contains scenes that reference suicide, and scenes that contain sexual violence.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) -

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Are you a survivor? Need assistance or support?

National Sexual Assault Hotline -

800.656.HOPE (4673) - https://hotline.rainn.org/

Please do not struggle in silence. People care, your friends and family care. I care.





Contents





DEDICATION

MORE BOOKS BY SCARLETT ST. CLAIR

COMING SOON

CONTENT WARNING

PART I

CHAPTER I – A TOUCH OF TORMENT

CHAPTER II – A TOUCH OF GRIEF

CHAPTER III – AGGRESSION

CHAPTER IV – NEVER HAVE I EVER

CHAPTER V – A TOUCH OF ANcIENT MAGIC

CHAPTER VI – A TREAT

CHAPTER VII – A TOUCH OF TERROR

CHAPTER VIII – A CONCESSION

CHAPTER IX – THE PALAESTRA OF DELPHI

CHAPTER X – A WALK IN THE PARK

CHAPTER XI – A TOUCH OF a nightmare

CHAPTER XII – A TOUCH OF enlightenment

CHAPTER XIII – A PERFECT STORM

CHAPTER XIV – THE TEMPLE OF SANGRI

CHAPTER XV – BECOMING POWER

CHAPTER XVI – HIDE & SEEK

CHAPTER XVII – A TOUCH OF SHADOW

CHAPTER XVIII – CLUB APHRODISIA

PART II

CHAPTER XIX – THE ISLAND OF LAMPRI

CHAPTER XX – A COUNCIL OF OLYMPIANS

CHAPTER XXI – A TOUCH OF FEAR

CHAPTER XXII – A TOUCH OF REGRET

CHAPTER XXIII – A LOVER’S QUARREL

CHAPTER XXIV – THE CHARIOT RACES

CHAPTER XXV - MONSTERS

CHAPTER XXVI – RELICS

CHAPTER XXVII – THE MUSEUM OF ANCIENT GREECE

CHAPTER XXVIII – A TOUCH OF TERROR

CHAPTER XXIX – HEALING

CHAPTER XXX – A FEAST UPON OLYMPUS

CHAPTER XXXI – A TOUCH OF FOREVER

CHAPTER XXXII – IN A SEA OF STARS

CHAPTER XXXIII – ABDUCTED AND UNMASKED

CHAPTER XXXIV – A BATTLE BETWEEN GODS

CHAPTER XXXV – A FAVOR

PART III

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

THANK YOU FOR READING!

AUTHOR’S NOTE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR





PART I



“Changes of shape, new forms, are the theme which my spirit impels me now to recite. Inspire me, O gods, and spin me a thread from the world’s beginning down to my own lifetime…”

– OVID’S METAMORPHOSES





CHAPTER I – A TOUCH OF TORMENT




Rough hands parted her legs and skimmed up her thighs, lips followed—a light pressure gliding across her skin. Half-asleep, Persephone arched against the touch, restraints biting into her wrists and ankles. Confused, she tugged on them in an attempt to free her hands and feet but found the bindings would not give. There was something about this, the inability to move, to resist, to fight, that made her heart race and the blood pulse into her throat and head.

“So beautiful.” The words were a whisper against her skin and Persephone froze.

That voice.

She knew that voice.

She’d once considered its owner a friend and now he was an enemy.

“Pirithous.”

His name slipped from between her teeth—laced with rage and fear and disgust. He was the demi-god who had stalked and kidnapped her from the Acropolis.

“Shh,” he whispered, his tongue, wet and cold, slithered against her skin.

A cry tore from her throat. She pressed her thighs together, twisting against the foreign touch ghosting across her skin.

“Tell me what he does that you like,” he whispered, sticky breath bathing her ear, hand skating closer to her center. “I can do better.”

Persephone’s eyes flew open as she sat up, inhaling sharply. Her chest ached and her breathing was ragged, as if she’d just run across the Underworld with a wraith on her heels. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, to realize she was in Hades’ bed, silk sheets clinging to her dampened skin, fire blazing orange in the hearth opposite them, and beside her was the God of the Dead himself, his energy, dark and electric, charging the air, making it heavy and tangible.

“Are you well?” Hades asked.

His voice was clear, quiet—a soothing tonic she wanted to consume. She looked at him. He rested on his side; his exposed skin burnished by the firelight. His eyes glittered black, dark hair spilling over the sheets like waves in a starless sea. Hours ago, she had clutched it between her fingers as she rode him long and slow and breathless.

She swallowed; her tongue felt swollen.

This was not the first time she’d had this nightmare, nor was it the first time she’d woken to find Hades watching.

“You haven’t slept,” she said.

“No,” He replied, and rose beside her, lifting his hand to brush her cheek. His touch sent a shiver down her spine, straight to her soul. “Tell me.”

When he spoke, it was as if his voice were magic, a spell that coaxed words from her mouth even when they seized in her throat.

“I dreamed of Pirithous again.”

Hades’ hand fell from her cheek and Persephone recognized the expression on his face, the violence in his endless eyes. She felt guilty, having unearthed a part of him that he worked so hard to control.

Pirithous haunted Hades just as much as he haunted her.

“He harms you, even in your sleep,” Hades frowned. “I failed you that day.”

“How could you have known he would take me?”

“I should have known.”

It wasn’t possible, of course, though Hades had argued that was why he had assigned Zofie as her protector, but the Aegis had been patrolling the exterior of the Acropolis during the abduction. She had also not noticed anything out of the ordinary because Pirithous’ exit had been through an underground tunnel.

Persephone shivered, thinking of how she’d thoughtlessly accepted the demi-god’s help to escape the Acropolis, all the while he’d been planning her abduction.

She would never trust blindly again.

“You are not all seeing, Hades,” Persephone attempted to soothe.

In the days following her rescue from Pirithous’ home, Hades had been in a dark mood, which had culminated in his attempt to punish Zofie by relieving her of her Aegis duties—a move Persephone had halted.

Still, even after Persephone had rejected Hades’ decree, the Amazon had argued with her.

This is my shame to carry.

The Aegis’s words had frustrated Persephone.

There is no shame. You were doing your job. You seem to think your role as my Aegis is up for discussion. It isn’t.

Zofie’s eyes had gone wide as she looked from her to Hades, uncertain, before she relented, bowing deep.

As you wish, my lady.

After, she’d turned to Hades. I expect to be informed before you attempt to dismiss anyone under my care.

Hades’ brows rose, his lips twitched, and he countered. I hired her.

I’m glad you brought that up, she’d said. The next time you decide I need staff, I also expect to be included in the decision making.

Of course, darling. How shall I apologize?

They’d spent the rest of the evening in bed, but even as he made love to her, she knew he struggled, just like she knew he struggled now.

“You are right,” Hades replied. “Perhaps I should punish Helios, then.”

She gave him a wry look. Hades had made comments before regarding the God of the Sun. It was clear neither of them cared for one another.

“Would that make you feel better?”

“No, but it would be fun,” Hades replied, his voice contradicting his words, sounding more ominous than excited.

Persephone was well aware of Hades proclivity toward violence and his earlier comment on punishment reminded her of the promise she had extracted from him after she’d been rescued—when you torture Pirithous, I get to join. She knew Hades had gone to Tartarus that night to torment the demi-god, knew that he had gone since—but she had never asked to accompany him.

But now she wondered if that was why Pirithous haunted her dreams. Perhaps seeing him in Tartarus—bloodied, broken, tortured—would end these nightmares.

She looked at Hades again and gave her order. “I wish to see him.”

Hades’ expression did not change, but she thought she could feel his emotions in that moment—anger, guilt, and apprehension—but not apprehension at allowing her to face her attacker, apprehension at having her in Tartarus at all. She knew that a part of him feared to show her this side of him, feared what she would think—and yet, he would not deny her.

“As you wish, darling.”

***

Persephone and Hades manifested in Tartarus, in a windowless, white room so bright, it hurt. As her eyes adjusted, they widened, welded to the spot where Pirithous was restrained in a chair at the center of the room. It had been weeks since she’d seen the demi-god. He appeared to be asleep, chin resting on his chest, eyes closed. She’d once thought he was handsome, but now those sharp cheekbones were hollow, his face wan and ashy.

And the smell.

It wasn’t decay, exactly, but it was acidic and sharp, and it burned her nose.

Her stomach roiled, souring at the sight of him.

“Is he dead?” She could not bring her voice above a whisper just in case—she was not ready to see his eyes. She knew she asked a strange question, given that they stood in Tartarus, in the Underworld, but Persephone was aware of Hades’ preferred methods of torture, knew that he would give life only to extinguish it through a series of harrowing punishments.

“He breathes if I say so,” Hades replied.

Persephone did not respond immediately. Instead, she approached the soul, pausing a few feet from him. Up close, he looked like a wax figure that had grown too soft under the heat, slouched and frowning. Still, he was solid, and all-to-real.

Before she had visited the Underworld, Persephone had thought souls were shades—shadows of themselves—instead they were corporeal, as solid as the day they’d died, though that had not always been the case. Once, the souls of Hades’ realm had lived a bland and crowded existence under his rule.

Hades had never confirmed what had changed his mind—why he’d decided to give both the Underworld and the souls color and the illusion of life. He’d often said that the Underworld merely evolved as the Upperworld did, but Persephone knew Hades. He had a conscious, he felt regret for his beginning as King of the Underworld. He’d done those things as a kindness, as a way to atone.

Despite this, he would never forgive himself for his past and it was that knowledge that hurt her heart.

“Does it help?” she asked Hades, unsure if she wanted an answer. “The torture?”

She looked at the god, who still stood where they had manifested, hair unbound, horns on display, looking dark and beautiful and violent. She could not imagine what being here did to him, but she remembered the look on his face when he had found her in Pirithous’ lair. She had never seen his rage manifest in such a way, never seen him look so horrified and broken.

“I cannot say.”

“Then why do you do it?” She walked around Pirithous, pausing behind him and meeting Hades’ gaze.

“Control,” Hades answered.

Persephone had not always understood Hades’ need for control, but in the months since they’d met, she was starting to desire that very thing. She knew what it was to be a prisoner, to be powerless, to be caught between two horrible choices—and still choose wrong.

“I want control,” she whispered.

Hades stared at her for a beat, and then held out his hand.

“I will help you claim it.”

His voice rumbled in the space between them, warming her chest. She approached him again and he drew her close, back to his chest.

Suddenly, Pirithous inhaled. Persephone’s heart raced as she watched him stir. His head lulled and his eyes blinked open, sleepy and confused.

Again, that fear of seeing his gaze slashed through her, shaking her insides. Hades gave her a reassuring squeeze about the waist, as if to remind her that she was safe, and dipped his head; his breath teased her ear.

“Do you remember when I taught you to harness your magic?”

He was referring to their time in her grove, after Apollo had left with this favor from Hades and a promise from Persephone that she wouldn’t write about him. She had sought comfort among the trees and flowers but only found disappointment when she could not bring life to a parched patch of ground. Hades had come then, appearing like the shadows he bent to his will and helped her harness her magic and heal the ground. He had been seductive in his instruction, lighting a fire wherever he touched.

Her body pricked with chills at the thought and her words hissed from between her teeth.

“Yes.”

“Close your eyes,” he instructed, lips grazing the column of her neck.

“Persephone?” Pirithous’ voice was hoarse.

She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, focusing instead on Hades’ touch.

“What do you feel?” His hand drifted down her shoulder, the fingers of his other arm, firm around her waist, splayed possessively.

This question was not so easy—she felt many things. For Hades, passion and arousal. For Pirithous, anger and fear, grief and betrayal. It was a vortex, a dark abyss with no end—and then the demi-god said her name again.

“Persephone, please. I—I am sorry.”

His words struck her, a lance to her chest, and as she spoke, she opened her eyes.

“Violent.”

“Focus on it,” he instructed, his hand pressed into her belly, the other laced with her fingers.

Pirithous remained slouched in his metal chair, restrained and jaundiced, and the eyes she had feared stared back now, watery and afraid.

They had switched places, she realized, and there was a moment when she hesitated, questioning whether or not she could hurt him. Then Hades spoke.

“Feed it.”

With their fingers twined, she felt power gather in her palm, an energy that scorched her skin.

“Where do you wish to cause him pain?” Hades asked.

“This isn’t you,” Pirithous said. “I know you. I watched you!”

A roar started in her ears, and her eyes burned, the power inside her a heat she could scare contain.

He had left strange gifts, stalked her, taken pictures of her in a space that was supposed to be safe. He had taken away her sense of security, even in sleep.

“He’d wanted to use his cock as a weapon,” she said. “And I want it to burn.”

“No! Please, Persephone. Persephone!”

“Then make him burn.”

The energy pooling in her hand was electric, and as her fingers slipped from Hades’, she imagined the magic gathered there blasting toward Pirithous in an endless lava-hot stream.

“This isn’t—”

Pirithous’ words were cut short as the magic took root. There was no outward indication that anything was wrong with him—no flames leapt from his crotch, but it was clear he felt her magic. His feet dug into the ground, he bucked against his restraints, his teeth were clenched, the veins in his head and neck popped.

Still, he managed to speak through gritted teeth.

“This isn’t you.”

“I am not sure who you think I am,” she said. “But let me be clear—I am Persephone, future Queen of the Underworld, Lady of Your Fate—may you come to dread my presence.”

Crimson dripped from Pirithous’ nose and mouth, his chest rose and fell rapidly, but he did not speak again.

“How long will he stay like this?” Persephone asked, watching as Pirithous’ body continued to arch and strain against the pain. His eyes began to bulge from their sockets and a sheen of sweat broke out across his skin, making him look green in color.

“Until he dies,” Hades replied simply, watching with an expression of disinterest.

She didn’t flinch, didn’t feel, didn’t ask to leave until Pirithous was silent and limp once more. She considered her earlier question to Hades—does it help? In the aftermath, she had no answer, save for the knowledge that a part of her had wilted and that if she did this enough, the rest of her would wither away.





CHAPTER II – A TOUCH OF GRIEF




“How is the wedding planning going?” Lexa asked. She sat across from Persephone on a white quilt, embroidered with blue forget-me-nots. It had been a gift from one of the souls, Alma. She’d approached Persephone on one of her daily visits to Asphodel, a bundle in her arms.

“I have something for you, my lady.”

“Alma, you shouldn’t have—”

“It is a gift for you to give,” she interrupted quickly, wisps of her silver hair floating around her round, rosy-cheeked face. “I know you grieve for your friend so here, give her this.”

Persephone had taken the bundle, and upon realizing what it was—a quilt, lovingly crafted with small, blue flowers, tears sprang to her eyes.

“I don’t know that I need to tell you what forget-me-nots mean,” Alma continued. “True love, faithfulness, memories. In time, your friend will come to know you again.”

That evening, after Persephone had returned to the castle, she’d hugged the blanket to her chest and wept. The next day, she gifted it to Lexa.

“Oh, it is beautiful, my lady,” she’d said, holding the bundle as if it were a small child.

Persephone stiffened at the use of her title; her brows furrowed and when she spoke, she sounded more confused than anything. “My lady?”

Lexa had never used Persephone’s title before. Their eyes met, and Lexa hesitated, blushing.

Lexa never blushed.

“Thanatos said it is your title,” she explained.

Persephone recognized that titles had a use, but not among friends.

“Call me Persephone.”

Lexa’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You…didn’t.”

As much as Persephone tried to sound convincing, she couldn’t imbue her voice with enough reassurance. The truth was, hearing Lexa call her my lady was another reminder that she wasn’t the same person as before, and as much as Persephone told herself to be patient with Lexa, it was difficult. Lexa looked the same, sounded the same—she even laughed the same, but her personality was different.

“Besides, if we are using titles, then you would have to call Thanatos lord.”

Again, Lexa appeared to be embarrassed. She averted his eyes, and her flush deepened as she answered, “He said…I didn’t have to.”

Persephone had left that conversation feeling strange and somehow, even more distant from Lexa than before.

“Persephone?” Lexa asked.

“Hmm?” Persephone was drawn from her thoughts. Her eyes shifted and met Lexa’s eyes—bright blue, beautiful. Her face was paler here beneath the light of Elysium, framed by her thick, dark locks. She was also dressed in a white gown that tied around the middle. It was a color Persephone could not remember her wearing in the time she had known her in the Upperworld.

“Wedding planning—how is it going?” Lexa asked again.

“Oh,” Persephone frowned and admitted, “I haven’t really begun.”

That was half-true. She hadn’t begun planning—but Hecate and Yuri had. In all honesty, thinking of planning a wedding without Lexa hurt. If she’d been alive, her best friend would have been online looking for color palettes and dresses and venues. She would have made a plan and lists and explained customs Persephone had never been taught by her mother. Instead, she sat across from Persephone, quiet, subdued, unaware of their history. Even if Persephone had wanted to include her in Yuri and Hecate’s plans, she couldn’t—souls were not allowed to leave Elysium unless Thanatos deemed them ready to transition to Asphodel.

“Perhaps we can take the planning to her,” Persephone had suggested.

Thanatos had shaken his head. “Your visits leave her fatigued. She could not handle anything more at the moment.”

He had also attempted to ease the rejection with his magic. The God of Death was able to calm those in his presence, bringing comfort to the grieving and easing anxiety. Sometimes, though, it had the opposite effect on Persephone. She found his influence over emotion invasive, even when he meant well. In the days after Lexa’s death, Thanatos had used his magic in an attempt to ease her suffering, but she’d told him to stop. While she knew he meant well, she wanted to feel—even if it hurt.

It seemed wrong not to when she had caused Lexa so much pain.

“You don’t seem excited,” Lexa pointed out.

“I am excited to be Hades’ wife,” she clarified. “It’s just…I never imagined that I would be getting married. I don’t even know where to start.”

Demeter had never prepared her for this—for anything. The Goddess of Harvest had hoped to outwit the Fates by keeping her isolated from the world—from Hades. When she’d begged to leave the greenhouse, to enter the world in the guise of a mortal, she’d only had dreams of finishing her degree, beginning a successful career, and reveling in her freedom for as long as possible.

Love had never been part of that dream, least of all marriage.

“Hmm,” Lexa hummed, and she leaned back on her hands, head tilted toward the muted sky, as if she wished to sunbathe. “You should start with what makes you the most excited.”

It was advice the old Lexa would have offered.

But what made Persephone most excited was being Hades’ wife. When she thought of their future, her chest felt full, her body electric, her soul, alive.

“I will think on it,” Persephone promised as she rose to her feet. Speaking of the wedding, she was due at the palace soon to begin planning. “Although, I am sure Hecate and Yuri will have their own ideas.”

“They may,” Lexa said, and for a moment, Persephone couldn’t look away. The old Lexa stared back, thoughtful and sincere as she added, “But it is your wedding.”

***

Persephone left Elysium.

She should teleport to Asphodel. She was already running late, but as she left Lexa behind, her vision blurred with tears. She stopped, burying her face in her hands. Her body ached, chest hollow and lungs aflame. She knew this feeling well, as it had crippled her in the days since Lexa’s death. It came, unbidden, like the nightmares haunting her sleep—it came when she expected it and even when she didn’t, attached to laughter and smells and songs, to words and places and pictures. It chipped away at pieces of her.

And it wasn’t just sadness that burdened her—she was also angry. Angry that Lexa had been hurt at all, angry that despite the gods—despite her own Divinity—there was no fighting Fate. Because Persephone had tried, and she had failed.

Her stomach knotted, poisoned by guilt. If she had known what lay ahead, she would have never bargained with Apollo. When Lexa lay unconscious in the ICU, Persephone had just begun to understand what it was to fear losing someone. In fact, she had been so afraid, she had done everything in her power to prevent what was ultimately, inevitable. Her decisions had hurt Lexa in ways that were only repairable with time—and a drink from the Lethe.

Even with her memories gone, Persephone still had hope that the old Lexa would come back. Now she knew the truth—grief meant never going back, it meant never collecting the pieces. It meant that the person she was now in the aftermath of Lexa’s death was who she would be until the next death.

Bile rose in her throat.

Grief was a cruel god.

As she approached the palace, she was greeted by Cerberus, Typhon, and Orthrus who bounded toward her. The three Dobermans halted before her, energetic but obedient. She knelt, scratching behind their ears and moving to their sides. She’d come to understand their personalities more. Of the three, Cerberus was the most serious and the most dominate. Typhon was mellow but always alert, and Orthrus could be silly when he wasn’t patrolling the Underworld—which was almost never.

“How are my handsome boys?” she asked.

They panted and Orthrus’s paws tapped the ground, as if he could barely contain his wish to lick her face.

“Have you seen Hecate and Yuri?” she asked.

They whined.

“Take me to them.”

The three obeyed, ambling toward the palace, towering and ominous, it could be seen from just about anywhere in the Underworld. Its shining obsidian pinnacles seemed to go on forever, disappearing into the bright, grey-toned sky, a representation of Hades’ reach, his influence, his reign. At the base of the castle were gardens of green ivy, red roses, narcissus, and gardenias. There were willows and blossoming trees and pathways that cut through the flora. It was a symbol of Hades’ kindness, his ability to change and adapt—it was atonement.

When she’s first visited, she’d been angry to find the Underworld so lush, both because of the bargain she’d struck with the God of the Dead, and also because creating life was supposed to be her power. Hades had quickly illustrated that the beauty he had crafted was an illusion. Even then, she’d been jealous that he was able to use his magic so effortlessly. Though she was gaining control daily—through practices with Hecate and Hades—she still envied their control.

“We are old gods, my dear,” Hecate had said. “You cannot compare yourself to us.”

They were words she repeated every time she felt the familiar claws of jealousy. Every time she felt the familiar frustration of failure. She was improving, and one day she would master her magic, and maybe then the illusions Hades had held for years would become real.

The dogs lead her to the ballroom where Hecate and Yuri stood before a table of floral stems, color swatches, and sketches of wedding dresses.

“There you are,” Hecate said, looking up at the sound of the Doberman’s nails tapping on the marble floor. They ran straight for the Goddess of Witchcraft, who bent to pat their heads before they plopped on the floor beneath the table, panting.

“Sorry I’m late,” Persephone said. “I was visiting Lexa.”

“That’s alright, dear,” Hecate said. “Yuri and I were just discussing your engagement party.”

“My…engagement party?” It was the first time she’d heard anything about it. “I thought we were meeting to plan for the wedding.”

“Oh, we are,” Yuri said. “But we must have an engagement party. Oh, Persephone! I cannot wait to call you queen!”

“You can call her queen now,” Hecate said. “Hades does.”

“It’s just so exciting!” Yuri clasped her hands. “A Divine wedding! We haven’t had one of those in years.”

“Who was the last?” Persephone asked.

“I believe it was Aphrodite and Hephaestus,” Hecate said.

Persephone frowned. Rumors had always circulated about Aphrodite and Hephaestus, the most common, that the God of Fire did not want the Goddess of Love. During the times Persephone had spoken to Aphrodite, she’d gathered that the goddess was not happy in her marriage, but she did not know why. When she tried to learn more about her relationship, Aphrodite shut down. In part, Persephone did not blame the goddess. Her love life and its struggles were no one’s business. Still, she got the sense that Aphrodite believed she was very much alone.

“Were you in attendance at their wedding?” Persephone asked Hecate.

“I was,” she said. “It was beautiful, despite the circumstances.”

“Circumstances?”

“Theirs was an arranged marriage,” Yuri explained. “Aphrodite was a gift to Hephaestus.”

“A…gift.”

Persephone cringed. How could a goddess—any woman—be presented as a gift?

“That is what Zeus likes to say,” Hecate said. “But when she was born—a siren of beauty and temptation—Zeus was approached by several gods for her hand in marriage—Ares, Poseidon, even Hermes fell prey to her charms, though he will deny it. Zeus rarely makes a decision without consulting his oracle, and when he asked about marriage to each of those gods, the oracle foretold war, so he wed her to Hephaestus.”

Persephone frowned. “But Aphrodite seems so…fierce. Why would she allow Zeus to determine who she weds?”

“Aphrodite wanted to marry Hephaestus,” Hecate said. “And even if she hadn’t, she would not have had any choice. All Divine marriages must be approved by Zeus.”

“What? Why? I thought Hera was the Goddess of Marriage.”

“She is—and he involves her to a point, but he does not trust her. She would approve of a marriage if it meant an end to his reign as King of the Gods.

“I still don’t understand. Why do we need approval to marry?”

“Marriage between gods it is not like mortals—gods share power, they have children. There are many factors Zeus must consider before he gives his blessing.”

“Share….power?”

“Yes—though I doubt it will affect Hades at all. He already has influence over the Earth, but you—you will have control over shadow, over death.”

Persephone shivered. The thought that she would have to learn to control and harness more magic was a little overwhelming. She was just now mastering her own magic. Of course, that wouldn’t be a problem if Zeus did not approve of her marriage. Why hadn’t Hades told her about this?

“Is there a chance Zeus will disapprove?” she asked, worrying her bottom lip. If he did, what would Hades do?

Darling, I would burn this world for you.

The words trailed along her skin, whispering along her spine—a promise Hades had made and would deliver upon if forced.

“I cannot say for certain,” Hecate said, and her evasive words made anxiety flare in Persephone’s stomach—a constant static that sat in her heart and pumped through her veins. The goddess was rarely anything but direct.

Yuri elbowed Hecate. “I am sure Zeus will approve,” she said. “What reasons could he possibly have for denying you happiness?”

Persephone could think of one—and that was her power. After she had lost control in the Forest of Despair and used Hades’ own magic against him, Hecate had confessed a fear she’d harbored since their first meeting—that she would be more powerful than any other god. That power would either land her a spot among the Olympians or as their enemy, which she could not say.

Yuri seemed to tire of the conversation and changed the subject quickly.

“Let’s start with color palettes!” she said, opening a large book on the table. Tuffs of cloth stuck out from the between pages.

“What is this?” Persephone asked.

“It’s…well, it’s a book of wedding ideas.”

“Where did you get it?”

“The girls and I made it,” Yuri said.

Persephone raised a brow.

“When did you start it?”

The soul’s cheeks turned pink, and she stammered. “A few months ago.”

“Hmm.”

Persephone had a feeling the souls had been collecting wedding-themed items since the night she almost drowned in the Styx, but she said nothing, listening as Yuri showed her a variety of color pairings.

“I’m thinking lilac and green,” she said. “It will compliment black, which we all know is the only color Hades will wear.”

Persephone giggled. “Does his color choice annoy you?”

“You mean his lack of color? Just once I’d like to see him in white.”

Hecate snorted, but said nothing.

As Yuri continued going over other options, Persephone couldn’t help thinking about Zeus and wondering why they were planning a wedding before knowing if her union with Hades was even permitted. Perhaps your marriage has been blessed, she argued. Perhaps Hades had asked before his proposals. It would explain why she’d never heard of the antiquated caveat.

Still, she would be sure to ask him later…and she would be anxious until then.

Persephone approved of the color pallet and with that settled, Yuri moved onto the wedding dress.

“I had Alma draw up some designs,” she said.

Persephone flipped through the pages. Each dress was heavily embellished with jewels or pearls and layers and layers of tulle. She might not have ever dreamed of her wedding, but she knew for certain these were not the dresses for her.

“What do you think?”

“They are beautiful sketches,” she said.

“You don’t like them,” Yuri said instantly, frowning.

“It’s not that…” Persephone said.

“It’s that,” Hecate interjected.

Persephone glared. “It’s just that…I think I want something a little more…simple.”

“But…you are to be a Queen,” Yuri argued.

“But I am still Persephone,” she said. “And I’d like to be Persephone…for as long as I can.”

Yuri opened her mouth to protest once more, but Hecate intervened. “I understand, my dear. Why don’t I take care of coordinating the gown? Besides, it’s not as though you won’t have another chance to wear a ballgown.”

The Goddess of Witchcraft looked pointedly at Yuri.

Persephone’s brows knitted together. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, my dear—this is just the first wedding. You’ll have a second, perhaps a third.”

Persephone felt the color drain from her face. “A…third?”

This was another thing she had yet to learn.

Hecate explained. “One in the Underworld, one in the Upperworld, and one on Olympus.”

“Why Olympus?”

“It’s tradition.”

“Tradition,” Persephone echoed. Just as it was tradition for Zeus to approve marriages—and now she wondered, if Zeus didn’t approve of their marriage, did that mean he did not approve of their relationship at all? Would he try to force them apart just as her mother? She frowned. “I’m not so eager to follow tradition.”

Hecate smiled. “Lucky for you, Hades isn’t, either.”

They stayed for a while longer, discussing flowers and location. Yuri favored gardenias and hydrangeas while Persephone preferred anemone and narcissus. Yuri favored the ballroom for the ceremony while Persephone favored one of the gardens—perhaps beneath the purple wisteria in Hades’ garden. By the end of it, Hecate was smiling.

“What?” Persephone asked, curious as to why the Goddess of Magic seemed so amused.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s just…despite stating otherwise, you seem to know exactly what you want out of this wedding.”

Persephone smiled softly. “I just…picked things that reminded me of us.”

After their meeting, Persephone retired to the baths where she soaked in the hot, lavender-infused water for close to an hour. She was exhausted. It was the kind of weariness that went bone deep, a result of her body fighting near-constant anxiety and crushing guilt. It did not help that she had awoken to nightmares of Pirithous. Even after she and Hades had returned from Tartarus, she’d been unable to sleep. Laying wide-awake beside the God of the Dead, reliving the torture she’d inflicted upon the demi-god, wondering what her actions made her. Suddenly, her mother’s words came to mind.

Daughter, even you cannot escape our corruption. It is what comes with power.

Was she a monster? Or just another god?

Persephone left the baths and returned to Hades’—their, she reminded herself—bedchamber. She intended to change and dine with the souls while she waited to confront Hades about Zeus, but when she saw the bed, her body felt heavy and all she wanted to do was rest. She collapsed atop the silk sheets, comfortable, weightless, safe.

When she opened her eyes, it was night. The room was full of firelight and shadowy flames danced on the wall opposite her. She sat up and found Hades near the fireplace. He turned to face her, naked, his muscles haloed by flames—broad shoulders, flat abs, strong thighs. Her gaze trailed all parts of him—from his glittering eyes to his swollen cock. He was a work of art as much as he was a weapon.

He sipped the whiskey in his glass.

“You are awake,” he said softly then downed what remained of his drink, leaving the glass on the table near the fireplace, to come to bed. As he sat beside her, he cupped her face and kissed her. When he pulled away, his thumb brushed her lips.

“How was your day?” he asked.

She pulled at her lip with her teeth as she answered, “Hard.”

He frowned.

“Yours?” she asked.

“The same,” he said, letting his hand fall from her face. “Lay with me.”

“You don’t have to ask,” she whispered.

He parted her robe which had already fallen open, exposing one of her breasts to his hungry eyes. The silky fabric slid down her arms, puddling around her waist. Hades bent, taking her nipples into his mouth, tongue shifting between teasing laps and sharp sucking. Persephone’s fingers tangled into his hair, holding him in place as her head fell back, delighting in the feel of his mouth on her body. The longer he worked, the hotter she grew, and she found herself guiding one of Hades hands between her thighs, to her molten center where she desired most to be filled.

He obliged, parting her slick flesh, and as he filled her, she blew out a breath that turned into a moan, which Hades captured as his mouth closed over hers. For a long moment, Persephone held Hades’ wrist as his fingers worked, curling deep, touching familiar parts of her, but then her hand shifted to his cock and as her fingers met the softness of his shaft, he groaned, breaking their kiss and leaving her body.

She growled, reaching for his hand again, but he just chuckled.

“Do you not trust me to bring you pleasure?” he asked.

“Eventually.”

Hades narrowed his eyes. “Oh, darling. How you challenge me.”

He shifted her body so that she was on her side, back to his chest. One of his arms cradled her neck while the other gripped her breasts, skimmed down her stomach to her thighs. He drew her legs apart, hooking one over his own, spreading her wide. His fingers circled her clit and threaded through her curls before dipping into her warmth again. She inhaled, arching against him, his hard cock grinding into her ass. Her head pressed into the crook of his shoulder, her legs opening wider, coaxing him deeper—and Hades’ mouth descended on hers, savage in his wish to claim.

Her breath quickened, her heels slipped on the bedding, unable to ground—she felt euphoric and alive, and she wanted more even as the first vibrating orgasm wrecked her body.

“Is this pleasure?” he asked.

She did not have time to answer. Even if he’d given her time, she did not think she had the ability to summon words between heavy breaths as the head of Hades’ cock nestled against her entrance. She inhaled as he eased inside her, back arching, shoulders digging into his chest. When he was fully sheathed, his mouth touched her shoulder, teeth grazing skin, hand continuing to tease her clit until she moaned. It was a sound he had summoned from somewhere deep inside her.

“Is this pleasure?” he asked again as he moved, setting a slow rhythm that made her aware of everything—each increment of his cock as it reached deep, the slamming of his balls against her ass, the way each thrust stole the breath from her lungs.

“Is this pleasure?” he asked again.

She turned her head toward his, gripping the back of his neck. “It is ecstasy.”

Their lips collided in a vicious kiss and there was no more talking, just gasps, desperate moans, and the slamming of bodies. The heat grew between them, until Persephone could feel the perspiration from their bodies mixing. Hades’ pace quickened, one hand kept her leg curled around his own, the other was at her throat, holding her jaw between his fingers with the lightest pressure—and he held her like that until they came.

Hades’ head fell into the crook of her neck where he pressed kisses to her skin.

“Are you well?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

She was more than well. Sex with Hades always went beyond her expectations and every time she thought they’d reached their peak—nothing can get better than this—she was proven wrong. This instance had been no different, and she found herself wondering just how much experience the God of the Dead had—and why was he holding out?

Hades withdrew, and Persephone rolled to face him, studied his face, glistening after their lovemaking. He looked sleepy and content.

“Has Zeus approved of our marriage?”

Hades stilled, as if his heart had stopped beating and he had ceased breathing. She wasn’t sure what he was reacting to—perhaps he realized he’d forgotten to talk to her about this, or he realized he’d been caught. After a moment, he relaxed, but a strange tension settled between them—it wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t the elation they usually reveled in after sex.

“He is aware of our engagement,” he said.

“That is not what I asked.”

She knew him well enough now—Hades never said or offered more than was needed. He stared at her for a moment before answering, “He will not deny me.”

“But he has not given you his blessing?”

She wanted him to say it, though she already knew the answer.

“No.”

It was her turn to stare. Still, Hades remained silent.

“When were you going to tell me?” Persephone asked.

“I don’t know,” he paused and to her surprised added, “When I had no other choice.”

“That is more than obvious.” She glared.

“I was hoping to avoid it altogether,” he said.

“Telling me?”

“No, Zeus’s approval,” Hades said. “He makes a spectacle of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“He will summon us to Olympus for an engagement feast and festivities, he will drag out his decision for days. I have no desire to be in attendance, and no desire to have you suffer through it.”

“And when will he do this?” Her voice a breathless whisper.

“In a few weeks, I imagine,” he said.

She stared at the ceiling, the colors swirling together as her vision clouded with tears. She wasn’t sure why this made her so emotional—maybe it was because she was afraid, or maybe because she was tired.

“Why wouldn’t you tell me? If there is a chance we cannot be together, I have the right to know.”

“Persephone,” Hades whispered, rising to his elbow, he loomed over her, brushing at her tears. “No one will keep us apart—not the Fates, not your mother, and not Zeus.”

“You are so certain, but even you will not challenge the Fates.”

“Oh, darling, but I have told you before—for you, I would destroy this world.”

She swallowed, watching him. “Perhaps that is what I fear the most.”

He studied her a moment longer, thumb brushing her cheek before his lips touched hers, then kissed down her body, drinking deep between her thighs and when he rose again, there were no other names upon her lips but Hades.

***

Later she woke again to find Hades returning to their room, fully dressed.

Her brows knitted together as she rose into a sitting position, eyes still heavy with sleep.

“What’s wrong?”

The god grimaced, his gaze hard and a little unkind as he answered, “Adonis is dead. He’s been murdered.”

She blinked as a wave of shock shivered though her.

Persephone did not like Adonis. He had stolen her work and published it without her permission, he’d touched her even after she’d said no, and he’d threatened to expose her relationship with Hades if she didn’t get him rehired at New Athens News. He deserved a lot, but he hadn’t deserved to be murdered.

Hades crossed the room, returning to the bar where he poured himself a drink.

“Adonis. Murdered? How?”

“Horribly,” Hades replied. “He was found in the alleyway outside La Rose.”

It took Persephone a moment to think, her mind not quite able to catch up with the news. The last time she’d seen Adonis was in the Garden of the Gods. She’d turned his arms into literal, wooden limbs and he’d groveled at her feet, begging to be returned to normal. She’d done so under the condition that if he touched another woman without consent, he would spend the rest of his days as a corpse flower.

She hadn’t seen him since.

“Has he made it here…to the Underworld?”

“He has,” Hades replied as he downed a glass of whiskey and poured another.

“Can you ask him what happened?”

“No. He…is in Elysium.”

Which told Persephone that his death had to have been traumatic to warrant placement upon the healing fields.

Persephone watched as Hades threw back another drink. He only drank like this when he was anxious and what worried her most was how upset he seemed about the death of a man he’d once called a parasite.

Whatever he’d seen had disturbed him.

“Do you think he was killed because of Aphrodite's favor?” Persephone asked.

It wasn’t uncommon—over the years, many mortals had been killed for that very reason and Adonis was someone who flaunted his association with the Goddess of Love.

“It’s likely,” he said. “Whether it was because of jealousy or a hatred for the gods, I cannot say.”

Dread pooled in her stomach.

“Are you suggesting he was killed by someone who had a vendetta against Aphrodite?”

“I think he was killed by several people,” Hades said. “And that they hate all Divinity.”





CHAPTER III – AGGRESSION




Hades words were still on her mind when she headed to work at The Coffee House the next morning. She hadn’t been able to pry any more information out of him regarding Adonis’s death, he’d only added that he believed the murder had been planned and executed with intention, a fact that made Persephone fear there would be more assaults.

Despite his brutal death, there was no mention of it in any newspaper. She imagined that was due to Hades’ involvement in the investigation, but that also made her think he’d seen something he didn’t want the public—or her—knowing.

She frowned. She knew Hades was trying to protect her, but if people were attacking favored mortals—or anyone associated with the gods—she needed to know. While the world at large did not know she was a goddess, her association with Hades made her and her friends potential targets, too.

Persephone chose a shadowed corner in coffee shop to setup and wait for Helen and Leuce. Since launching her own online community and blog, The Advocate, a few weeks ago, the three met weekly and because they had no office, they chose various locations across New Athens—The Coffee House being one of their preferred haunts. The two were running behind, probably due to the weather as New Athens was experiencing a cold front.

That was probably an understatement.

It was freezing and snow had been falling from the dreary sky off and on for almost a week. At first, it melted as soon as it touched the ground, but today it had begun to stick to the roads and sidewalks. Meteorologists were calling it the storm of the century. It was the only story in the news that rivaled Persephone and Hades’ engagement announcement. Today, she found that they shared space on the front page of every news outlet—from New Athens News to the Delphi Divine, their headlines warred:

God of the Dead to Wed Mortal Journalist

and

Winter Storm Steals Summer Sun

A third headline caused knots to form in Persephone’s stomach. It was an opinion column in The Grecian Times—a national newspaper and a rival of New Athens News.

Winter Weather is Divine Punishment

It was clear that the author of the article was not a fan of the gods, probably an Impious. It began:

In a world ruled by gods, nothing is chance. The question remains—whose wrath are we facing and what is the cause? Another mortal who claimed to be more beautiful than any of the Divine? Or one who dared rebuke their advances?



It was neither—it was a real-life battle between Hades, Persephone, and her mother, Demeter, the Goddess of Harvest.

Persephone was not surprised that it had come to this. Demeter had done everything in her power to keep Persephone and Hades apart, and it had started from her birth. Locked away in a glass greenhouse, Demeter had fed her lies about the gods and their motives, in particular, Hades who she detested merely for the fact that the Fates had woven their threads together. When Persephone thought of how she used to be under her mother’s strict rule, she felt sick—blind, self-righteous, wrong. She hadn’t been a daughter at all but a prisoner and in the end, it was all for nothing because when Persephone met Hades, all bets were off and the only bargain that mattered was the one she was willing to make with her heart.

“Your latte, Persephone,” Ariana, one of the barista’s, said as she approached. Persephone had come to know almost everyone in The Coffee House, both due to her celebrity and her frequent visits.

“Thank you, Ariana.”

The barista attended the College of Hygienia and was studying Epidemiology. It was a challenging channel of study considering some diseases were god-made and only curable if they deemed them to be.

“I just wanted to say congratulations on your engagement to Lord Hades. You must be so excited.”

Persephone smiled. It was a little hard for her to accept well wishes with Demeter’s storm worsening outside. She couldn’t help thinking that if mortals knew the reason for the sudden change in weather, they would not be so happy about their marriage. Still, she managed to respond. “I am, thank you.”

“Have you chosen a date?”

“No, not yet.”

“Do you think you’ll be married here? I mean, in the Upperworld?”

Persephone took a deep breath. She didn’t mean to be so frustrated by the woman’s questions. She knew they stemmed from her excitement—and yet they only served to make her anxious.

“You know, we haven’t even discussed it. We’ve been very busy.”

“Of course,” the barista said. “Well, I’ll let you get back to work.”

Persephone offered a half-hearted smile as the barista turned to leave. She took a sip of her latte before turning her attention to her tablet, opening an article Helen had sent her late last night for review. She couldn’t quiet describe how she felt when she read the title, but it was something akin to dread.

The Truth About Mortal Activist Group Triad

In the years since The Great Descent, mortals have been restless at the presence of gods on Earth. Since then, various groups have formed in opposition of their influence. Some choose to identify with the ideology of an Impious. These mortals do not pray or worship the gods, nor look to them for reprieve, preferring instead to avoid Divinity altogether. Some Impious prefer to take a passive role in the war against the gods.



Others take a more active role and have chosen to join Triad.



“Gods have a monopoly on everything—from the restaurant industry to clothing, even mining. It’s impossible for mortals to compete,” says an anonymous member of the organization. “What good is money to a god? It isn’t as if they have to survive in our world.”



It was argument Persephone had heard before, and while she could not speak for other gods, she could defend Hades. The God of the Dead was the wealthiest of the Olympians, but his charitable contributions made a great impact on the mortal world.

Helen continued:

Triad stands for three mortal rights—fairness, freewill, and freedom. Their objective is simple: remove the influence of gods from everyday life. They claim to have new leadership which encourages a more peaceful approach to their resistance of the gods as opposed to their previous antics which included bombing several public gathering places and god-owned businesses.



There was no evidence to suggest Triad had been behind any recent attacks. In fact, the only thing they’d been connected to in the last five years was a protest that had sprung up in the streets of New Athens to object to the Panhellenic Games. Despite being viewed as an important, cultural event to some Greeks, Triad abhorred the act of gods choosing heroes and pitting them against one another. It was a practice that inevitably led to death and while Persephone had to agree that fighting to the death was archaic, it was the mortal’s choice.

Gods, I’m starting to sound like Hades.

She read on:

Despite this claim of peace, there have been a reported 593 attacks against people with a public association with the gods in the last year. Those responsible say they are upholding Triad’s newest mission by ushering in a rebirth. This growing death toll has gone unnoticed by god and mortal alike, overshadowed by news of a marriage, a winter storm, and Aphrodite’s newest fashion line.



Perhaps the gods do not see Triad as a threat but given their history, can they be trusted? As demonstrated, they are not the ones who will suffer if the so-called activist group decides to act. It will be innocent bystanders and in a world where mortals out number gods, should we be asking what the divine should do?



It was the last sentence that left Persephone with a sour taste in her mouth, especially on the heels of Adonis’s death. Still, even given the truths Helen highlighted in her article, Persephone needed more. She wanted to hear from Triad’s leadership—had they taken responsibility for those 593 attacks? If not, die they plan to condemn rogue actions? What were their plans for the future?

She was so focused on making notes, she didn’t notice anyone approach until a voice startled her from her work.

“Are you Persephone Rosi?”

She jumped, head snapping to meet the gaze of a woman with large brown eyes and arched brows. Her face was heart-shaped and framed by thick, dark hair. She wore a black coat, trimmed with fur and clutched a cup of steaming coffee between her hands.

Persephone smiled at her and answered, “I am.”

She expected the woman to ask for a photo or an autograph, but instead, she took the lid off her coffee and poured it in her lap. Persephone jumped to her feet as the burn settled skin-deep and the whole shop went quiet.

For a moment, Persephone was stunned, silenced by the pain and her magic which shook her bones, desperate to defend.

The woman turned, her task fulfilled, but instead of leaving, she came face to face with Zofie, an Amazon and Persephone’s Aegis.

She was beautiful—tall and olive-skinned, dark hair falling in a long braid down her back. When Persephone first met her, she’d been dressed in gold armor, but after a trip to Aphrodite’s boutique, she’d come away with a modern wardrobe. Today, she wore a black jumper. The only item that didn’t fit was a large sword she held and swung at her assaulter’s head.

Screams erupted in the shop.

“Zofie!” Persephone cried, and the Amazon’s blade halted a hair from the woman’s neck. Her eyes locked with Persephone’s, her expression frustrated, as if she did not understand why she could not continue with her execution.

“Yes, my lady?”

“Put the sword away,” Persephone ordered.

“But—” She began to protest.

“Now.”

The command slipped between clenched teeth. That was all Persephone needed, Zofie spilling blood on her behalf. This would already make headlines—people were shamelessly filming and taking pictures. She made a note to inform Ilias of this incident, perhaps he could get ahead of the media.

The Amazon grumbled, but obeyed, and her sword vanished from sight. Without the threat of bodily harm, the woman regained her composure and turned to Persephone again.

“Lemming,” she hissed with more hatred in her eyes than Minthe or her mother had ever possessed, and stormed out of The Coffee House, signaling the pleasant chime of the bell on the door.

As soon as she was gone, Zofie spoke.

“One word, my lady. I’ll slay her in the alley.”

“No, Zofie. That’s all we need, a murder on our hands.”

“It’s not murder,” she argued. “It’s retribution.”

“I’m fine, Zofie.”

She turned to gather her things, conscious that people were still watching. She wished she had control over lightning like Zeus because she would electrocute every device in this place just to teach them to mind their own business.

“But...she wounded you!” Zofie argued. “Lord Hades will not be pleased with me.”

“You did your job, Zofie.”

“If I had done my job, you would not be injured.”

“You came as soon as you could,” Persephone said. “And I am not injured. I’m fine.”

She was lying, of course, mostly to protect Zofie. The Amazon was liable to attempt to resign again if she knew how much pain Persephone was in.

Who would have ever thought to use coffee as a weapon? Persephone thought. What a betrayal.

“Why did she attack you?”

Persephone frowned. She didn’t know.

Lemming, the woman had called her—another word for blind follower. Persephone knew the word, but she’d never been called one before.

“I don’t know,” she said, and sighed. She met Zofie’s gaze. “Call Ilias, advise him of what happened. Perhaps he can get ahead of the media.”

“Of course, my lady. Where are you going?”

“To find Hades,” she said, and assess the damage to her legs. Her skin stung beneath her clothes. “The last time someone tried to hurt me, he tortured them.”

She shrugged on her coat and sent Leuce and Helen a quick text, letting them know their morning meeting was cancelled and she’d see them later tonight.

“I will see you at Sybil’s?” she asked the Amazon.

“Yes, for the housewarming,” she said, and her brows pinched together. “Shall I bring wood?”

Persephone laughed. “No, Zofie. Bring...wine or food.”

Persephone didn’t know much about Zofie’s upbringing, but it was evident that the island from which she originated did not evolve with modern society. When she’d asked Hecate about it, she’d said, “That’s how Ares prefers it.”

“Prefers…what?”

“The Amazons are his children, bred for war not the world. He keeps them sequestered on the island of Terme so that they will never know anything but battle.”

After learning this, Persephone wondered how Zofie had come to know Hades and became her Aegis.

She focused on the Amazon again. “If you need ideas, just text Sybil and ask her what to bring. She’ll help.”

Persephone sent a quick text to Leuce and Helen, letting them know she’d had to leave The Coffee House early and stepped outside. The cold sliced into her, and it was worse where her clothing was wet, freezing her skin beneath. She made her way down the sidewalk, slick with water and gathering snow, rounding the corner of the building until she was out of sight of passersby’s before teleporting to the Underworld.

She appeared in her bedchamber, half expecting Hades to be there, waiting, frustrated, ready to inspect her for injury, but he had not arrived yet. She sat her purse aside and shrugged out of her jacket, peeling off her faux leather leggings. She could still feel the residual sting where the hot coffee had sat against her skin. Luckily, the damage was minimal—her thighs were red and a little swollen, a hint of bubbled skin speckled across her legs. Maybe running cold water over it would help, she thought.

As she turned to enter the bathroom, she found her way blocked by Hades.

Persephone startled, her hands pressing to her heart, over her naked breast. The god stood with glittering eyes, smartly dressed in his tailored black suit. His hair was slick and tied into a perfect bun at the back of his head, not a wisp out of place. His chiseled jaw close-shaven and well-manicured. He was immaculate and sexual, a presence that stole her breathe and made her ache.

“Hades! You scared me.”

His gaze dropped to her chest and he grinned, reaching for her hand.

“You should have known I would find you once you took your clothes off. It is a sixth sense.”

As he bent to brush his lips along her knuckles, his eyes dipped lower, and a frown touched his mouth. He released her hand only to press his palm against her thigh. She shivered; his touch cool against the heat of the blisters.

“What is this?” His question was almost a hiss.

Apparently, word hadn’t reached him yet.

“A woman poured coffee into my lap,” Persephone explained.

“Poured?”

“If you are asking if it was intentional, the answer is yes.”

Something dark flashed in Hades’ eyes. It was the same look she’d seen last night when she’d brought news of Adonis’s death. After a moment, he knelt before her. A wave of magic burst from his hands, settling into her skin until she no longer felt the pain of the burns or saw the scalding upon her skin. Despite being healed, Hades remained on his knees, hands drifting to the back of her legs.

“Will you tell me who this woman was?” Hades asked, his lips grazing the inner part of her thigh.

“No,” she said, inhaling sharply, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders.

“I cannot…persuade you?”

“Perhaps,” she admitted, the word escaping on a breath. “But I do not know her name, so all your…persuading would be in vain.”

“Nothing I do is in vain.”

Hades’ grip tightened on her, and his head dipped between her legs—his mouth closing over her clit. Persephone gasped, her fingers threading into his slick hair.

“Hades—”

“Don’t make me stop,” he said, his voice rough.

“You have thirty minutes,” she said.

Hades paused, looking up at her from the ground.

Gods, he was beautiful and so fucking erotic. The heat in the bottom of her stomach melted her insides. She was wet for him. By the time he put his mouth on her, she would come—he wouldn’t even need to coax an orgasm from her.

“Only thirty?”

“Do you need more?” she challenged.

He offered a wicked grin. “Darling, we both know I could make you come in five, but what if I’d like to take my time?”

“Later,” she said. “We have a party to attend, and I still need to make cupcakes.”

Hades frowned. “Is it not a mortal custom to be fashionably late?”

Persephone raised a brow. “Did Hermes tell you that?”

“Is he wrong?”

“I will not be late to Sybil’s party, Hades. If you wish to please me then you’ll make me come and on time.”

Hades smirked.

“As you wish, my darling.”





CHAPTER IV – NEVER HAVE I EVER




Persephone manifested on the doorstep of Sybil’s apartment with Hades.

A shiver shook her spine.

It was a combination of the cold and thoughts from the last hour spent with the God of the Dead on his knees. She should be used to Hades’ wickedness, but he still found ways to surprise her—pleasuring her as she stood, one leg drawn over his shoulder. His tongue had tasted and teased, devoured and savored. She’d pressed into him, unable to keep her body from bearing down upon his mouth. She’d come, coaxed by a growl that erupted from deep in Hades’ chest. She’d finished with enough time to finish the cupcakes for Sybil’s party.

Another shiver wracked her body. The cold was piercing, like needles sinking into her skin. It was unnatural weather for July and nothing—not even the happiness Hades’ love had inspired—could quell the dread she felt as the snow continued to fall.

It’s the start of war.

They were Hades’ words; spoken the night he had proposed, this time on a bent knee with a ring. It had been the best moment of her life but overshadowed by Demeter’s magic. Suddenly, the tips of Persephone’s fingers tingled with power, reacting to the sudden shiver of rage that shot up her back.

Hades’ hand tightened around her waist.

“Are you well?” he asked, no doubt sensing the surge in her magic.

Persephone had not yet completely managed to keep her magic from reacting to her emotions.

“Persephone?”

Hades’ voice drew her attention and she realized she had not answered his earlier question. She tilted her head, meeting his dark gaze. Warmth blossomed in the pit of her stomach as her eyes fell to his lips and the inviting stubble on his jaw, recalling how it felt against her skin, a delicious friction that teased and taunted.

“I am well,” she replied.

Hades raised a doubtful brow.

“I am,” she said. “I was just thinking about my mother.”

“Do not ruin your evening thinking of her, my darling.”

“It is a little hard to ignore her given the weather, Hades.”

He lifted his head and stared at the sky for a moment, his body going rigid beside hers, and she knew he was just as concerned but she didn’t ask for his thoughts on the matter. Tonight, she wanted to have fun because something told her, that beyond this night, nothing would be.

She knocked, but instead of seeing Sybil, a blond man answered the door. His hair fell in soft waves just above his shoulders. His eyes were hooded and blue, and his jaw marked by stubble. He was handsome, but a complete stranger.

Weird, Persephone thought. She was certain this was Sybil’s apartment.

“Um, I think we might have the wrong—”

“Persephone, right?” the man asked.

She hesitated and Hades’ arm tightened around her.

“Persephone!” Sybil popped up behind the man, ducked under his arm and pulling her into a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here!”

There was a note of relief in her voice. Sybil pulled away and her eyes shifted to Hades.

“I’m glad you could come, too, Hades.” Sybil’s voice was quiet and shy. Persephone was a little surprise, given that she was no stranger to the gods. She had served Apollo only months ago as his oracle…until he striped her of her powers of prophecy after she refused to sleep with him. His behavior made him the subject of Persephone’s article, but her decision to write about the God of the Sun had been a disaster.

Turns out, he was beloved, and Persephone’s article seen as slander. Not only that, Hades had been furious—so furious that he had held Persephone prisoner in the Underworld until he could bargain with Apollo so the god would not seek revenge.

That experience had taught Persephone a lot of lessons, chiefly, that the world was not ready to believe a woman in pain. It was one of the reasons she’d started The Advocate.

“I appreciate the invitation,” Hades replied.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” the blond stranger asked.

Persephone noted the way Sybil froze. It was only a second, as if she had forgotten the man was present, and a small, apologetic smile formed upon her face before she turned.

“Persephone, Hades, this is Ben.”

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand for them to shake. “I’m Sybil’s boyfrie—”

“Friend, Ben is a friend,” Sybil said quickly.

“Well, soon-to-be-boyfriend,” Ben said, grinning, but the look Sybil gave her was desperate. Persephone’s gaze slid from the oracle to the mortal as she accepted his clammy, outstretched hand.

“It’s...nice to meet you.”

Ben shifted toward Hades. The God of the Dead looked down at his hand. “You do not want to shake my hand, mortal.”

His eyes widened a little, and an awkward silence followed, but only for a beat before Ben’s smile returned.

“Well, shall we go in?” he asked.

He stood aside, gesturing for everyone to enter. Persephone arched her brow at Hades as they stepped into the warm apartment. Hades had the ability to see to the soul, and Persephone wondered what he glimpsed when he looked at Ben, though she thought she could guess.

Serial killer.

“What?” Hades asked.

“You promised to behave,” she said.

“It is not in my nature to appease mortals,” Hades replied.

“But it is in your nature to appease me,” Persephone said.

“Alas,” he said, his voice low. “You are my greatest weakness.”

The entrance of Sybil’s apartment was a short hallway that led to a kitchen and a small living room. The space was mostly empty, save for a loveseat and a television. While it was nowhere close to the extravagance she’d lived in with Apollo, it was quaint and cozy. It reminded Persephone of the apartment she’s shared with Lexa for three years.

“Wine?” Sybil asked, and Persephone was glad for the distraction.

“Please,” she said, tamping down the ache that had formed in her chest at the thought of her dead best friend.

“For you, Hades?”

“Whiskey…whatever you have is fine. Neat…please,” he added as if it were an afterthought. Persephone grimaced, but at least he’d asked nicely.

“Neat?” Ben asked. “Real whiskey drinkers at least add water.”

Persephone’s heart pounded as she watched Hades’ eyes connect with Ben’s. “I add the blood of mortals.”

“Of course, Hades,” Sybil said quickly, plucking a bottle from the collection on the counter and handing it to him. “You’ll probably need it.”

“Thank you, Sybil,” he said, quickly loosening the cap to drink.

She poured Persephone a glass of wine and slid it across the counter.

“So, how did you meet Ben?” Persephone asked, picking up her wine.

Sybil started to respond when Ben jumped in.

“We met at Four Olives where I work,” he said. “It was love at first sight for me.”

Persephone choked on her drink, the wine burning the back of her throat as she spit it back into the glass. Her eyes connect with Sybil’s, who looked mortified, but before either of them could speak, a knock sounded at the door.

“Thank the gods,” Sybil said, practically racing to the entrance, leaving Persephone and Hades alone with the mortal.

“I know she isn’t convinced yet,” Ben said. “But it’s only a matter of time.”

“What makes you so sure?” Persephone countered.

His back straightened as he proclaimed. “I’m an oracle.”

“Oh fuck,” Hades grumbled.

Persephone elbowed him.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said, leaving the kitchen with his bottle of whiskey.

Ben leaned across the bar. “I don’t think he likes me.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Persephone asked, her nose still burned.

Ben shrugged a shoulder. “It’s...just a feeling.”

There was a long, awkward silence that passed between them and just when Persephone started to excuse herself to go in search of Hades, the so-called oracle spoke.

“You’ve lost,” he said.

“Excuse me.”

“Yes,” he whispered, his eyes unfocused and glazed. “You have lost, and you will lose again.”

Persephone’s jaw clenched.

“The loss of one friend will lead you to lose many—and you, you will cease to shine, an ember taken by the night.”

Her anger slowly dissipated, turning to disgust as she recognized his words.

“Why are you quoting Leonidas?”

The television show was popular and had been one of Lexa’s favorites about a Spartan king and his war with the Persians. It was a drama full of love and lust and blood.

Ben blinked, his eyes coming into focus.

“What did you just say?” he asked, and Persephone rolled her eyes. She hated false prophets. They were dangerous and made a joke of the real practice of prophecy. She started to speak but was interrupted by Hermes cry of excitement.

“Sephy!” The God of Mischief threw his arms around her neck, squeezing her. He inhaled deeply. “You smell like Hades…and sex.”

She shoved against the god. “Stop being creepy, Hermes!”

The god chuckled and released her, his sparkling gaze shifting to Ben.

“Oh, and who is this?” His interest evident in the peak of his voice.

“This is Ben. Sybil’s…” She wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence, but she didn’t need to because no one was listening anyway. Ben was already grinning at the God of Mischief.

“Hermes, right?” he asked.

“So, you’ve heard of me?”

Persephone rolled her eyes. He’d asked her the same thing when they’d first met. She had never asked why he said it, but she had a feeling it was to invite some kind of compliment considering everyone had heard of him.

She was not surprised when it backfired.

“Of course,” Ben replied. “Are you still the Messenger of the Gods or do they use email?”

Persephone’s brows rose and she pressed her lips together to keep from giggling.

Hermes narrowed his eyes.

“It’s Lord Hermes to you,” he said, and twisted away, muttering to Sybil as he passed. “You can keep him.”

The God of Thieves was not upset for long when he noticed Hades standing in Sybil’s living room. “Well, well, well, look who decided to darken the corner—literally.”

Hades did look out of place in Sybil’s apartment, much like he had the night he had come to her and Lexa’s to make cookies. At least he’d tried to fit in that night, wearing a black shirt and sweats. Tonight, he insisted on wearing a suit.

“What happened to those sweats you wore to my house?” Persephone had asked before they left.

“I...threw them out.”

Her eyes widened.

“Why?”

Hades shrugged. “I did not think there would be a time when I would need them again.”

She raised a brow. “Do you mean to say you never thought you would hang out with my friends again?”

“No.” He looked down at his suit. “Do I not meet your expectations?”

She had giggled then. “No, by far, you exceed them.”

He’d grinned then and she thought her heart might beat right out of her chest. There was nothing as beautiful as Hades when he smiled.

Another knock announced the arrival of more guests—this time, Helen. She wore a long, beige coat with a fur collar that she slipped off and folded over her arm. Beneath the jacket, was a long-sleeved white shirt and a camel-colored skirt with leggings. Her long hair was curled and fell in honey-colored waves over her shoulders. She’d brought wine and handed it to Sybil with a kiss on the cheek.

The two had not known each other long, but like everyone in Persephone’s circle, they’d become fast friends.

“This weather,” Helen said. “It’s almost…unnatural.”

“Yes,” Persephone said, quiet, a wave of guilt slamming into her. “It’s awful.”

Another knock sent Sybil to the door and she came back with Leuce and Zofie in tow. The two were now roommates, and Persephone had yet to decide if it was actually a good idea. Leuce had only recently returned to the mortal world after having been a tree for centuries, and Zofie had no real understanding of the humans, having been raised among female warriors. Still, the two were learning, from simple things like how to use the crosswalk and order food to more difficult aspects of mortal life like socializing and self-control.

Leuce was a naiad—a water nymph. She had white hair and lashes and pale skin that made her blue eyes look as bright as the sun. When Persephone had first met her, she was combative, and her pretty features were severe and angled. Overtime though, she had gotten to know the nymph and her attitude toward her softened, despite the fact that she had been Hades’ lover. Unlike Minthe, however, Persephone was certain there was no affection left between the two—a fact that made taking her under her wing a far easier a decision. Tonight, she wore a simple, light blue dress which made her look like an ice queen.

When Zofie entered the apartment, she was smiling, only to falter when she noticed Hades standing in Sybil’s living room.

“My lord!” she exclaimed and bowed quickly.

“You don’t have to do that here, Zofie,” Persephone said.

“But…he is the Lord of the Underworld.”

“We’re all aware,” Hermes said. “Look at him—he’s the only goth in the room.”

Hades glared.

“Since everyone’s here, let’s play a game!” Hermes said.

“What’s the game?” Helen asked. “Poker?”

“No!” Everyone said in unison, eyes shifting to Hades, who glared as if he wished to incinerate them. Persephone could just imagine the amount of work she was going to have to put in later to make up for his suffering.

“Let’s play Never Have I Ever!” Hermes said, he reached over the breakfast bar to the kitchen counter, clasping several bottles of various liquors between his fingers. “With shots!”

“Okay, but I don’t have shot glasses,” Sybil said.

“Then you’re all going to have to pick something to gulp,” Hermes said.

“Oh gods,” Persephone mumbled.

“What’s never have I ever?” Zofie asked.

“Exactly what it sounds like,” Hermes said as he sat the bottles on the coffee table. “You make a statement about something you’ve never done, and if anyone has done it, they have to take a shot.”

Everyone filed into the living room. Hermes sat on one side of the couch while Ben had taken up the other—until he noticed Sybil settling on the ground beside Persephone. Then, he abandoned the spot to squeeze beside her. It was awkward to watch, and Persephone averted her eyes, finding Hades staring. He stood across from her, not quite part of the circle they had formed. She wondered if he would find a reason not to play this game—and she couldn’t deny that part of her wanted to see how he would respond to every single one of these statements.

She also dreaded it.

“Me first!” Hermes says. “Never have I ever...had sex with Hades.”

Persephone’s gaze was murderous—she knew because she could feel the frustration eating away the glamour she used to dim the color of her irises.

“Hermes,” she gritted his name from between her teeth.

“What?” he whined. “This game is difficult for someone my age. I’ve done everything.”

Then Leuce cleared her throat, and his eyes widened as he realized what he had done. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.”

Persephone liked Leuce, but that did not mean she liked being reminded of her past with Hades. She made a point not to look at Leuce as she drank from a bottle of fireball.

Ben went next. “Never have I ever stalked an ex-girlfriend.”

There was a collective awkwardness that preceded the false-prophet’s statement. Was he trying to prove he wasn’t a creep?

No one drank.

Sybil was next.

“Never Have I Ever...fallen in love at first sight.” It was a jab at Ben, who did not seem to notice—or perhaps he didn’t care, so confident in his abilities as an oracle, he took a shot.

Next was Helen. “Never have I never…had a threesome.”

To no one’s surprise, Hermes took a shot, but so did Hades and something about it made the color drain from Persephone’s face. Perhaps it was the way he did it—eyes lowered, lashes fanning his cheeks, as if he did not wish to know that she saw him. Still, she tried to rationalize that they had discussed this before. Hades would not apologize for living before her, and she understood that. She expected Hades, God of the Dead, to have had many, varied sexual experiences—and yet she still felt jealous.

Finally, Hades lifted his eyes to hers. They were dark, a hint of fire igniting the irises like a sliver of a moon. It was an expression she knew well—not a warning so much as a plea—I love you, I am with you now. Nothing else matters.

She knew that—believed it with all her heart, but as the game continued, the instances where she was able to take a shot were few and far between—and nothing compared to Hades’.

“Never have I ever...eaten food off of someone’s naked body,” Ben said, but added with a direct look at Sybil. “But I’d like to.”

Hades drank and Persephone wanted to vomit.

“Never have I ever...had sex in the kitchen,” Helen said.

Hades drank.

“Never have I ever had sex in public,” Sybil said.

Hades drank.

“Never have I ever faked an orgasm,” said Helen.

Persephone wasn’t sure what came over her—but at that statement, she tipped her drink back and swallowed a gulp of wine. As she sat the glass down, Hades raised a brow and his eyes darkened. She could feel his energy against her own, demanding. He was eager to have her speak—to taste her skin and confirm she had lied.

She didn’t expect Hades to challenge her in front of everyone.

“If that is true, I will happily rectify the situation.”

“Oh,” Hermes teased. “Someone’s getting fucked tonight.”

“Shut up, Hermes.”

“What? You’re just lucky he didn’t carry you away to the Underworld the moment you lifted that glass.”

It still wasn’t out of the realm of possibility with the way Hades was looking at her. He had questions and he wanted answers.

“Let’s play another game,” Persephone suggested.

“But I like this one,” Hermes whined. “It was just getting good.”

She gave him a scathing look.

“Besides, you know Hades is just making a list of all the ways he wants to f—”

“Enough, Hermes!” Persephone got to her feet and made her way down the hallway to the bathroom. She closed the door and sank against it. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she exhaled—it was a failed attempt to release the strange feeling that had been building inside her. She couldn’t describe it, but it felt thick and heavy.

Then the air stirred, and she tensed, feeling Hades’ body cage her own, his cheek touched hers, his breath tickled her ear as he spoke.

“You had to know your actions would ignite me,” his voice was raw and rough, and it made the bottom of her stomach tighten. His body was rigid, a force barely contained.

“When have I left you wanting?”

She swallowed hard and knew he wanted the truth.

“Will you not answer?”

He lifted his hand to her throat—not squeezing but forcing her gaze to his.

“I’d really have rather not found out about your sexual exploits via a game in front of my friends,” she said.

“So you thought it better to reveal that I had not satisfied you in the same manner?”

Persephone looked away. Hades’ hand was still at her throat, and then he leaned forward, his tongue pressed lightly against her ear.

“Shall I leave no doubt in their minds that I can make you come?”

He lifted her skirt and tore at her lace underwear.

“Hades! We are guests here!”

“Your point?” he asked as he lifted her off the floor, leveraging her weight against the door. His movements were controlled but rough—a peek at the violence awake beneath this skin.

“It’s rude to have sex in someone’s bathroom.”

Hades licked across her mouth before his tongue parted her lips and her protests were drowned as he kissed her hard—to the point where she couldn’t breathe.

Why did I provoke him? Because I wanted this, she thought. I needed this.

She’d wanted to anger him, to feel him rage against her skin until she no longer remembered a past where she did not exist with him.

Her sex clenched as she felt the head of Hades’ cock graze her opening and in the next second, he was fully sheathed. Persephone’s head rolled, and a sound escaped her lips—raw and unabashed, as a wave of pleasure welled inside her.

Then there was a knock on the door.

“I hate to interrupt whatever’s going on in there,” Hermes said. “But I think you two will want to see this.”

“Not now,” Hades growled, his head rested in the crook of Persephone’s neck. His body was hard and rigid. She recognized it for what it was—an attempt at self-control.

It was a trait she wished he’d abandon.

She turned her head toward his, tongue grazing his ear, then her teeth. Hades inhaled; his hands squeezed her ass.

“Okay, first, it’s rude to have sex in other people’s bathrooms,” Hermes said. “Second, it’s about the weather.”

Hades groaned and then growled. “A moment, Hermes.”

“How long is a moment?” he asked.

“Hermes,” Hades warned.

“Okay, okay.”

Once they were alone, Hades left her. She felt his absence immediately—an ache that grew.

“Fuck,” he said under his breath as he restored his appearance.

“I’m sorry,” Persephone said.

Hades’ brows furrowed. “Why are you apologizing?”

She opened her mouth to explain—maybe for her jealousy or because they’d had to stop, or because of the storm—she really didn’t know. She closed her mouth, and Hades leaned toward her.

“I am not upset with you,” he said, and kissed her. “But your mother will regret the interruption.”

Persephone wondered what he meant, but she didn’t question him as they left the bathroom. From the hallway, she could hear the television blaring.

“A severe ice storm warning has been issued for the whole of New Greece.”

“What’s going on?”

“It’s started to sleet,” Helen said. She was at the window, the curtains parted.

Persephone approached. She could hear the faint tap of ice as it hit the window. She grimaced. She’d known the weather would get worse, but she hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

“This is a god,” Ben said. “A god cursing us!”

Persephone met Hades’ gaze. A tense silence filled the room. The mortal turned to Hades, demanding. “Do you deny it?”

“It is not wise to jump to conclusions, mortal,” Hades replied.

“I’m not jumping to conclusions. I have foreseen this! The gods will reign terror down upon us. There will be despair and destruction.”

The oracles words settled in the bottom of Persephone’s stomach like a stone, cold and heavy. Despite the fact that she thought he was insane, she could not deny that what he spoke was completely possible.

“Careful with your words, oracle.” It was Hermes who spoke this time. It was unnerving, seeing him so severe, so offended, and the tone of his voice sent shivers down Persephone’s spine.

Ben’s accusations were serious, and it was possible his prediction would incur the wrath of the gods.

“I am only speaking—”

“What you hear,” Sybil finished. “Which may or may not be the word of a god, and judging by the fact that you have no patron, I’m guessing you’re being fed prophecies from an impious entity. If you had training, you would know that.”

Persephone looked from Sybil to Ben. She didn’t know what an impious entity was, but Sybil knew what she was talking about. She had been trained for this.

“And what is so bad about an impious entity? Sometimes they are the only truth tellers.”

“I think you should leave,” Sybil said.

A tense silence followed as Ben seemed to register Sybil’s words.

“You want me to…leave?”

“She didn’t stutter,” Hermes shot back.

“But—”

“You must have forgotten the way to door,” Hermes said. “I’ll show you out.”

“Sybil—” Ben tried to plead, but in the next second, he vanished. All eyes turned to Hermes.

“That wasn’t me,” the god said.

Their gazes moved to Hades, but he remained silent, and though no one asked, Persephone wondered where he’d deposited the mortal.

“I think we all should go.” Persephone said, though what she really wanted was to be alone with Hades to ask questions. “This storm is only going to get worse the longer we stay.”

Everyone was in agreement. “Hades, I’d like to make sure Helen, Leuce, and Zofie get home safe.”

He nodded. “I’ll call Antoni.”

As the women fetched their jackets, Persephone pulled Sybil aside.

“Are you alright? Ben is—”

“An idiot,” she said. “I’m so sorry if he offended you or the others.”

“Don’t worry…but at the rate he is going, I’m sure he’ll incur the wrath of some god.”

They did not have to wait for Antoni long. The Cyclops pulled up in a sleek limo, and they filed inside—Hades and Persephone on one side, Leuce, Zofie, and Helen on the other.

“Did anyone else really hate that Ben guy?” Leuce asked.

“Sybil should keep a blade beneath her bed in case he comes back,” Zofie said.

“Or she could just lock her door,” Helen suggested.

“Locks can be picked,” Zofie said. “A blade is better.”

The cabin fell silent, except for the tapping of ice on the windows.

They dropped Leuce and Zofie off first. Once they had left the cabin, the darkness seemed to swallow Helen, whose petite frame was lost in the fur of her coat. She stared out at the night, her pretty face illuminated now and then by the streetlights.

After a moment, she spoke. “Do you think Ben is right? That this is the work of the gods?”

Persephone tensed, and looked at the mortal, whose eyes had drifted to Hades—wide and innocent. It was strange to hear that question with no venom behind the words.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Hades replied.

The limo came to a stop and as Antoni opened the door, cold air filled the cabin. Persephone shivered, and Hades’ arm tightened around her.

“Thank you for the ride,” Helen said as she left.

Once they were on the road again, Persephone spoke.

“Does she really think a storm will keep us apart?”

The way Hades’ jaw ticked told her everything she needed to know—yes.

“Have you ever seen snow, Persephone?” Hades asked, and she did not like the tone of his voice.

She hesitated. “From afar.”

On the caps of mountains, but since she had moved to New Athens, never.

Hades met her gaze, his eyes glittered; he looked menacing and angry.

“What is going through your mind?” she asked quietly.

His lashes lowered, casting shadows on his cheeks. “She will do this until the gods have no choice but to intervene.”

“And what happens then?”

Hades did not reply, and Persephone didn’t force a conversation because in truth, she was too afraid, and she thought she knew the answer.

War.





CHAPTER V – A TOUCH OF ANcIENT MAGIC




“Antoni,” Hades said not long after they dropped Helen off. “Please see that Lady Persephone returns safely to Nevernight.”

“What?”

The word was barely out of her mouth before Hades gripped her head and kissed her. He made love to her mouth, parting her lips to thrust his tongue inside. The bottom of her stomach grew taut with anticipation, her thoughts turning from her mother’s wrath to the promise Hades had made in Sybil’s bathroom. She still felt the empty ache of their unfinished coupling, and she desperately wanted to lose herself in him tonight, but instead of giving her release, he drew away, her lips felt swollen and raw.

More, Hades. Now. She wanted to scream at him because her body ached so badly.

And he knew it.

“Do not fret, my darling. You shall come for me tonight.”

Antoni coughed, and it sounded like he was trying to cover a laugh.

In the next second, Hades’ magic flared, smelling of spice and ash, and he was gone.

Persephone let out a long breath and then met Antoni’s gaze in the rear-view mirror.

“Where did he go?”

“I do not know, my lady,” he answered, and she heard what he didn’t say—even if I did, I have been ordered to take you home. Persephone suddenly knew what she would ask of Hecate at their next training session—how to follow someone when they teleported.

Antoni let Persephone out at the front of Nevernight. Despite the awful cold and stream of ice falling from the sky, mortals still stood in line, desperate to hold onto their chance to see the inside of Hades’ infamous club. She was met by Mekonnen, an ogre and one of Hades’ bouncers, as she exited the vehicle. He held an umbrella over her head and walked with her to the door.

“Good evening, Persephone,” he said.

She grinned. “Hello, Mekonnen. How are you?”

“Well,” he replied.

She was relieved when he didn’t comment on the weather. Mekonnen held the door open, and she entered the club. She ascended the stairs to the floor, packed with mortals and immortals alike. She did not always walk the floor, sometimes she would teleport as soon as she set foot inside, but more and more, she was trying to grow comfortable with the kind of power that came with being engaged to Hades.

Which meant that this club, it was hers.

Sometimes she wished she could walk unseen among the crowds like Hades, observing and listening, uninterrupted, but she did not think that power would manifest among her skillset.

Persephone cut across the floor of Nevernight, passing packed lounges, the back-lit bar, and the sunken dance floor where flushed bodies pulsed beneath red laser light. As she moved, she knew others watched. Even if they did not look at her, they whispered, and while she did not know what they said, she could guess—there were no shortage of rumors, no shortage of body language experts analyzing her every move, no shortage of ‘close friends’ releasing details about her life in the Underworld, her struggles with grief, the challenges of planning a wedding, and while there was only a thread of truth to any of those articles, it was how the world formed their opinion of her.

Persephone knew words were both ally and enemy, but she always thought she would be behind sensational journalism, not the other way around.

She was just grateful that no one approached her. Not that she minded most of the time, but tonight she was feeling less trusting. Perhaps it had something to do with today’s coffee incident. Still, she knew that one of the reasons people kept their distance was that she was being guarded. Adrian and Ezio, two of several ogres Hades employed as bouncers and bodyguards, flanked her from a distance. If anyone approached, they would converge.

Sometimes, though, even they weren’t intimidating enough to deter desperate mortals.

“Persephone!” A female voice rang out, barely audible over the clamor of the crowd. Persephone was used to people calling her name, and she was getting better at not letting it halt her stride, but this woman pushed through the crowd, and just as she made it to the stairs, cut her off.

“Persephone!” The dark-haired women said her name, out of breath from chasing her across the club. She was dressed in pink, and her chest heaved as she reached for her arm. Persephone jerked away, and suddenly, Adrian and Ezio stood between her and the mortal woman.

“Persephone,” she said her name again. “Please. I beg you! Hear me out!”

“Come, my lady,” Adrian implored, while Ezio maintained a barrier between her and the woman.

“A moment, Adrian,” she said, and placed her hand upon Ezio’s arm as she moved to stand beside him.

“Are you asking for my help?” Persephone said.

“Yes! Oh, Persephone—”

“She is the future wife and queen of Lord Hades,” said Adrian. “You will address her as such.”

The woman’s eyes widened. Not too long ago, Persephone would have cringed hearing Adrian’s correction, but the times where she asked others to call her only by her name were fewer and fewer.

“I’m so sorry, so sorry!”

Persephone felt herself growing impatient.

“Whatever your issue, it must not be as pressing considering it is taking you forever to get to the point.”

Gods, she really was starting to sound like Hades.

“Please, my lady—I implore you. I wish to bargain with Lord Hades. You must ask him to see me immediately.”

Persephone ground her teeth together. So the woman was not asking for her help—she wished for her to beg Hades for his. She tilted her head, narrowing her eyes, attempting to place a cap on her anger.

“Perhaps I can help you,” Persephone suggested.

The woman laughed, as if her suggestion was ludicrous. If she were being honest, the reaction hurt. She realized this mortal did not know Persephone was a goddess, but it was another reminder of the worth that was placed upon Divinity.

Persephone’s lips flattened. “Rejecting my help is effectively rejecting Hades.”

She started up the stairs again, and the woman attempted to lunge toward her, but Ezio placed his arm between them, preventing the woman from touching her.

“Wait, please,” the woman’s tone became desperate. “I did not mean to offend. It’s just…how can you help me? You are mortal.”

Persephone paused, and glanced at the woman. “If what you are asking for requires the aid of a god, it is likely you shouldn’t be asking for it at all.”

“That is easy for you to say,” the woman retorted angrily. “A woman who may ask anything of her lover, a god.”

Persephone glared. This woman was like anyone else who wrote articles or whispered about her. She had created her own narrative around Persephone’s life. She did not know how she had begged Hades for his aid, how he had refused, how she had fucked up and bargaining with Apollo when she should have stopped interfering.

She looked up at Ezio.

“See her out,” Persephone said, and turned to head up the stairs with Adrian.

“Wait! No! Please!”

The woman’s pleas erupted like the sound of fireworks inside the club, and slowly, the roar of the crowd turned quiet as they watch Ezio drag the woman from the club. Persephone ignored the attention and continued upstairs to Hades’ office. By the time she was behind the gilded doors, frustration flooded her veins. A pain pricked her forearm that she recognized as her magic attempting to manifest physically—usually in the form of a vine or leaves or flowers sprouting from her skin.

The mortal had triggered her.

She took a breath to ease her anger until the prick of pain dissipated.

What is the opinion of the world, anyway? Her bitter thought quickly turned into something far more painful as she realized why she had become so angry—the woman had essentially told her that she had nothing of value to offer, with the exception of her connection to Hades.

Persephone had struggled before with feeling like an object—a possession owned by Hades, often unnamed in articles where their relationship took center stage. She was Hades’ lover or the mortal.

What would it take for the Upperworld to see her as the Underworld did? Hades’ equal.

Persephone sighed and teleported to Hecate’s grove, only to find the goddess engaged in battle with a tiny, fluffy black puppy that had the hem of her crimson gown clasped between its teeth.

“Nefeli! Release me at once!” Hecate shouted.

The pup growled and pulled harder.

Persephone giggled, her earlier frustrations suddenly gone, replaced by amusement at seeing the Goddess of Witchcraft gripping her skirts in an attempt to free herself from such a small, delicate creature.

“Persephone, don’t just stand there! Save me from this...monster!”

“Oh, Hecate,” Persephone bent to scoop up the ball of fur. “She is not monster.”

She held Nefeli aloft. She had small ears, a pointed nose, and expressive—almost human—eyes.

“She is a villain!” The goddess inspected her dress, full of tiny holes. Then placed her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes. “After everything I did.”

“Where did you find her?” Persephone asked.

“I—” Hecate hesitated, and her hands dropped from her sides. “I…well…I made her.”

Persephone’s brows drew together, and she shifted the puppy so that she held her in the crook of her arm. “You...made her?”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Hecate said.

When she offered no explanation, Persephone spoke. “Hecate, please don’t tell me this was a human.”

It wouldn’t be the first time. Hecate had turned a witch named Gale into a polecat she now kept as a pet in the Underworld.

“Okay, then I won’t,” she replied.

“Hecate,” Persephone chided. “You didn’t—why? Because she annoyed you?”

“No, no, no,” she said. “Though…that is debatable. I turned her into a dog because of her grief.”

“Why?”

“Because she was going insane, and I thought she would rather be a dog than a mortal who had lost.”

Persephone opened her mouth, and then closed it. “Hecate, you can’t just turn her into a dog without her permission. No wonder she attacked your skirts.”

The goddess crossed her arms. “She gave me permission. She looked up at me from the ground and begged me to take her pain away.”

“I am sure she did not mean for you to turn her into a dog.”

Hecate shrugged. “A lesson for all mortals—if you are going to beg a god for help, be specific.”

Persephone offered a pointed look.

“Besides, I needed a new grim. Hecuba is tired.”

“A grim?”

“Oh yes,” she offered a devious smirk. “It’s just an old tradition I began centuries ago. Before I take a mortal’s life, I send a grim to torture them for weeks before their timely end.”

“But...how are you able to take lives, Hecate?”

“I am assigned as their Fate,” she explained.

Persephone shivered. She had never bore witness to the goddess’s vengeance but knew that Hecate was known as the Lady of Tartarus for her unique approach to punishment, which usually involved poison. Persephone could only imagine the hell any mortal would go through with Hecate assigned as the cause of their death.

“But enough about me and this mongrel. You came to see me?”

Hecate’s question pulled the smile from Persephone’s face as she was reminded of the reason she had sought the goddess. Despite her earlier frustration, she no longer felt anger so much as disappointment.

“I just…wondered if we could practice.”

Hecate narrowed her eyes. “I might not be Hades, but I know when you aren’t telling the truth. Come—out with it.”

Persephone sighed and told Hecate about the woman in the club. The goddess listened and after a moment, asked, “What did you think you could have offered the woman?”

Persephone opened her mouth to speak but hesitated.

“I…don’t know,” she admitted. She didn’t even know what the woman had wanted—though she could guess. It hadn’t taken Persephone long to realize that mortals rarely asked for anything but time, health, wealth, or love. None of which Persephone could grant, not as the Goddess of Spring, much less as a goddess just learning her powers.

“I see where your mind is going,” Hecate said. “I did not mean to make you feel lesser, but you have answered my question all the same.”

Persephone’s eyes widened slightly. “How?”

“You are thinking like a mortal,” she said. “What could I have possibility offered?”

“What could I have offered, Hecate? A wilted rose? The sun on a cold day?”

“You mock yourself and yet your mother terrorizes the upperworld with snow and ice. The sun is just what the mortal world needs.”

Persephone frowned. The idea of attempting to counter her mother’s magic was overwhelming. Again, Hecate stopped her.

“Coming from the woman who used Hades’ magic against him.”

Persephone narrowed her eyes. “Hecate, have you been hiding that you can read my mind?”

“Hiding implies that I willfully mislead you,” Hecate replied.

Persephone raised a brow.

“But yes, of course I can read minds,” she answered and then as if it would explain everything, she added “I am a goddess and a witch.”

“Great,” Persephone rolled her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m used to tuning out, especially when you’re thinking about Hades.”

The goddess scrunched her nose and Persephone groaned.

“My point is, Persephone, there will come a time when you can no longer masquerade as a mortal.”

A frown pulled at Persephone’s lips, but even she was beginning to wonder how long she would be able to keep up this charade, especially with her mother’s magic running rampant in the Upperworld.

“It was noble, to want to be known for your work but you are more than Persephone, a journalist. You are Persephone, Goddess of Spring, future Queen of the Underworld. You have so much more to offer than words.”

She thought of something Lexa had told her about what it meant to be a goddess. You are kind and compassionate and you fight for your beliefs, but mostly, you fight for people.

Persephone took a deep breath.

“And what am I supposed to do? Announce my Divinity to the world?”

“Oh, my dear, do not worry about how the world will come to know you.”

Persephone shiver