Ana A Touch of Darkness

A Touch of Darkness

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Persephone is the Goddess of Spring by title only. The truth is, since she was a little girl, flowers have shriveled at her touch. After moving to New Athens, she hopes to lead an unassuming life disguised as a mortal journalist. Hades, God of the Dead, has built a gambling empire in the mortal world and his favorite bets are rumored to be impossible. After a chance encounter with Hades, Persephone finds herself in a contract with the God of the Dead and the terms are impossible: Persephone must create life in the Underworld or lose her freedom forever. The bet does more than expose Persephone’s failure as a goddess, however. As she struggles to sow the seeds of her freedom, love for the God of the Dead grows—and it’s forbidden.

Yıl:
2019
Dil:
english
ISBN:
B07S9HLL34
Dosya:
EPUB, 677 KB
İndir (epub, 677 KB)

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42 comments
 
Erika
Thank you very much..........................................
04 July 2020 (03:23) 
booknerd
Good. 3.5/5. I like the retake in the Persephones story with Hades. Though it does confuse me why the gods were living with the humans. But yea decent book.
16 January 2021 (19:47) 
blessing
a lot like like fan-fiction...
02 February 2021 (21:06) 
knewbooks
-enemies to lovers
-love interest is to die for and is soft to persephone
-read in one sitting
-10/10 recommend
11 March 2021 (01:58) 
jesus
i ate soup and it sucked
24 March 2021 (19:32) 
J2trappy☠?
Is this book worth reading?
25 March 2021 (13:41) 
Husna Aqielah
literary, my fav duologies Greek mythology retelling!
03 April 2021 (21:14) 
Val
oh my gods this book is amazing
05 April 2021 (00:27) 
neha
such a fun read!
- fantasy
- enemies to lovers

05 April 2021 (11:38) 
Hogwarts_Professor
5/5
enemies to lovers
spicy spicy
kinda wish other gods were involved more like Poseidon
also if you liked this book and you have the app WEBTOON, Lore Olympus is fire
loved how hades was portrayed --> not as a villain, not as a bad person; he's capable of love too. people associate the color black, emo stuff, death, the underworld with evil way too much and it doesn't even signify that. Disclaimer: im not connecting any religion. this is how some people think. i disagree with tho. if you agree, fine by me
23 April 2021 (23:15) 
Jeria
There are barely any people of color in this. It's like one. Which is very problematic.
25 April 2021 (20:33) 
Candice Raymond
I absolutely loved this book, I was unable to put it down and kept reading on to find out what's next. Kinda slow at first but grips you towards the middle
02 May 2021 (23:24) 
Nowe Isabel
Truly a beautiful work of art. I couldn't put it down
02 May 2021 (23:26) 
sakshi
i m fucking bored out of my mind ..........and can't go outside beacuse of fucking pendamic ....my life suckss !!!
04 May 2021 (09:21) 
Morgan
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09 May 2021 (20:04) 
Lydia TK
it was good, great for a quick read
10 May 2021 (22:24) 
Minat
It's an amazing book . It's exciting and thrilling I'll definitely recommend this book.
11 May 2021 (23:52) 
mor
The amount of spice this book has! I have to admit, the first part is a little slow. I think it’s essential for the world-building and introduction of the characters. Nevertheless, I love this book so much. I recommend this if you love Greek myth and drama. It will leave you wanting more.
20 May 2021 (08:19) 
nerdyhaha
i haven't read but i really hop it's good
27 May 2021 (17:04) 
sakshi
AS YOU CAN SEE i have alreay commented read above
anyway whatever you do do not read this book
it has a lot of SEXUAL CONTENT for example (do you want 2 know? if yes carry on readin and comment below)
for example:
hades and perephone have sex and it has very explicit words not for children under 1 year old
lots of kissing
mention of intercourse
its really bad do not readddddddd
toodles
oh btw my lifes sucks
Sakshi
27 May 2021 (18:45) 
anna12
This book should have never been published, it reads like a children's book. the main character is an idiot. I think ppl only recommend this for the "spice" but wattpad would be the better option for that. Also Im pretty sure Persephone and Hades are uncle and niece so i cant get that out of my head when im reading about their romance. Plus Some of the sexual content was confusing and felt abusive/non consentual......
28 May 2021 (18:46) 
Calcifer
I don't recommend reading this book. It's frustratingly stupid and so are the characters, especially the portrayal of Persephone. I was so hoping it would live up to the hype but once again, I'm left wondering why anyone would like this book. I've never seen such an indecisive, naive, quick to assume, judgmental, and spineless protagonist as much as this one. She's so stupid at times and I just want to forget I even read as far as I did. The characters are all shallow and feel like they were just thrown together.
07 June 2021 (15:02) 
Eliza bennet
To be honest, I am not entirely sure if I loved or hated this book. It reads a lot like a sensual, sexual(there were 1-2 sex scenes), and better written fanfiction-esque retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone. I never liked the main female character and heavily disliked the male character. However, I still kept reading the story. It's like chancing upon a fanfiction that you know is just an escapist fantasy with no real character growth and you know you should read it but you can't help to finish it. I'm not entirely sure why I finished the story. It had it's charm and it's sex scenes and kidnapping. I'm not going to lie, this book is an escapist fantasy with a hot male character who kidnaps the female lead and have sex. Oh, and they are a God and Goddess respectively. If you want a fun romp where you can project yourself on the female lead and like that sort of escapist sex fantasy, then I would recommend that you try out this book. If you wish for a serious retelling of hades and persephone with character growth and realistic, three dimensional characters with traits present in every human, then run far from this book.
17 June 2021 (12:31) 
Shei
I was singing all i want by kodaline and I have accidentally associated the lyrics with Hades and Persephone and it just makes me sad now. I really liked the book tho and have begun the next one.
17 June 2021 (12:41) 
kaylol
I love it, kinda corny but its adorable.
23 June 2021 (03:57) 
thebaddestnutt
i read this in one day and umm 3.3/5
lots of spelling mistakes and a lot of the things r kinda weird, confusing or dont make sense
i have a lot of concerns but still a kinda good book
04 July 2021 (01:59) 
zela
To be completely honest, this book was kind of horrible.
Although the plot has potential, the way the book was written lacks a lot of important factors necessary for the success of a book.
This book is wattpad content, and was poorly written.
The main character was, like said above my another commenter "indecisive, naive, quick to assume, judgmental, and spineless". There was no real character development in any part, and any change of behavior seemed forced.
Nothing really made any sense, and I was left with several concerns after reading this book.
Half of the book was sexual scenes, and the couples had no really emotional connection or development. The scenes also lacked tension and all the smut scenes were really there for the sake of there being smut scenes.
Like when i tell you nothing made sense, NOTHING MADE SENSE.
I am concerned for u if you actually enjoyed this book.
Also the amount of grammatical errors made me embarrassed for the author.
04 July 2021 (02:15) 
Katja
Hello. Does anyone has this book, coz I can not download it. Tny
06 July 2021 (10:24) 
domies
At the beginning of the book, I wasn't sure if this book was for me. Gradually, however, the story escalated and I could not take my eyes off the book. A really great, engaging book full of love and twists.
11 July 2021 (14:22) 
Herli
I was hoping for a Hades Persephone modern retelling, but instead got a smut. See, I don't mind sexual content, but having to imagine Persephone as a stupid YA girl was not what I expected. Ruined Hades and Persephone for me. I wouldn't recommend this to you.
21 July 2021 (11:07) 
A-nanny-mouse
Like Herli said all the way at the bottom of the reviews (most recent one? Idk) i wanted mythology and I got a smutty fan fiction. They took my favorite characters and made them lock eyes and be instantly horny even though one of them had probably never even flicked her own bean. Not a fan.
24 July 2021 (09:00) 
Nonsikelelo Dingwiza
The start of the book was not appealing or with me. However, as the character grew and we got to know more I started liking it
28 July 2021 (15:50) 
Lulu
I loved the book but after reading the reviews i think I may have missed how this is low-key incest and the characters were kinda abusive
09 August 2021 (18:25) 
Mia
Hey, can a 13 year old read this book?????
30 August 2021 (22:23) 
Afrin
Highly recommended..... This book is so good ... especially the second book ( A game of fates ) I just loved it ... I literally don’t have words to say how much I m in love with hades pov ... 10/10
09 September 2021 (11:15) 
lisa
A book worth reading (especially if you're intrigued by the Greek mythology of Persephone and Hades).
I highly recommend it (along with 'A game of fate' and 'A touch of ruin')!!
12 September 2021 (08:19) 
Hunter56
I loved this book so much
27 September 2021 (07:29) 
None
I wasn't sure if I should read this book but as I started reading it I became addicted and now I am reading 'A Touch of Ruin'...I recommend you to go for it
07 October 2021 (09:31) 
Tere
No sé si leeré el libro aún pero vine por los comentarios que dejaron en "Kingdom of Wickle"....Lo recomiendo
09 October 2021 (04:29) 
callisto
i believe it is not an understatement to say this was the best book i have ever read in my entire life! i was intrigued by the first page until the very last and cannot express how much it made me feel. it was a literal journey! highly recommend this book!
18 October 2021 (22:26) 
A
Just an FYI, this version is not completely edited and has a ton of spelling/grammar errors.
28 October 2021 (04:17) 
Elizabeth
I can see why some people don't like this book, but I whole heartedly enjoyed it and look forward too the other ones. I downloaded it by chance and read it in a matter of hours. If you like cheesy, loose story plot, but crank the angst and romance give this a shot. One of the better takes on their story besides fanfiction.
03 December 2021 (08:04) 

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1

The Barista's Beloved

년:
2019
언어:
english
파일:
EPUB, 356 KB
0 / 0
2

看人的艺术:11种以物识人术,看人看到骨子里

년:
2018
언어:
chinese
파일:
PDF, 4.57 MB
0 / 0
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: 978-0-9911323-7-9

Copyright © 2019

Cover Design by: Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com

All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author.





Dedication



Ashley Elizabeth Steele

&

Molly Kathleen McCool

Thank you for loving me.





best friends forever.





MORE Books BY SCARlett st. clair





When Stars Come Out





COMING SOON





When the Sky Falls





TABLE OF CONTENTS



FRONT COVER

PUBLISHING INFORMATION

DEDICATION

MORE BOOKS

CHAPTER I – THE NARCISSUS

CHAPTER II – NEVERNIGHT

CHAPTER III – NEW ATHENS NEWS

CHAPTER IV – THE CONTRACT

CHAPTER V – INTRUSION

CHAPTER VI – THE STYX

CHAPTER VII – A TOUCH OF FAVOR

CHAPTER VIII– A GARDEN IN THE UNDERWORLD

CHAPTER IX – ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS

CHAPTER X – TENSION

CHAPTER XI – A TOUCH OF DESIRE

CHAPTER XII – GOD OF THE GAME

CHAPTER XIII – LA ROSE

CHAPTER XIV – A TOUCH OF JEALOUSY

CHAPTER XV – OFFER





CHAPTER XVI – A TOUCH OF DARKNESS

CHAPTER XVII – THE OLYMPIAN GALA

CHAPTER XVIII – A TOUCH OF PASSION

CHAPTER XIX – A TOUCH OF POWER

CHAPTER XX – ELYSIUM

CHAPTER XXI – A TOUCH OF INSANITY

CHAPTER XXII – THE ASCENSION BALL

CHAPTER XXIII – A TOUCH OF NORMAL

CHAPTER XXIV – A TOUCH OF TRICKERY

CHAPTER XXV – A TOUCH OF LIFE

CHAPTER XXVI – A TOUCH OF HOME

AUTHOR'S NOTE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

THANKS AND APPRECIATION





CHAPTER I – THE NARCISSUS



Persephone sat in the sunlight.

She’d chosen her usual spot at The Coffee House, an outdoor table in view of the crowded pedestrian street. The walkway was lined with shade trees and ; box gardens teeming with purple aster and pink and white sweet alyssum. A light breeze carried the scent of spring and the honeyed air was mild.

It was a perfect day, and though Persephone had come here to study, she was finding it hard to concentrate because her eyes were drawn to a bunch of narcissus flowers that sat in a slender vase on her table. The bouquet was sparse—only two or three slender stems—and their petals were crisp, brown, and curling like the fingers of a corpse.

The narcissus were the flower and symbol of Hades, the God of the Dead. They did not often decorate tables, but coffins. Their presence at The Coffee House probably meant that the owner was in mourning which was really the only time mortals worshipped the God of the Underworld.

Persephone always wondered how Hades felt about that, or if he cared. He was more than just the King of the Underworld, after all. Being the wealthiest of all the gods, he’d earned the title of Rich One, and had invested his money into some of the most popular clubs in New Greece—and these weren't just any clubs. These were elite gambling dens. It was said Hades liked a good bet, and rarely accepted a wager other than the human soul.

Persephone had heard a lot about the clubs from other people while at University, and her mother, who often expressed her dislike for Hades, had also spoken out against his businesses.

“He has taken on the role of puppet master,” Demeter had chided. “Deciding fates as if he were one of the Moirai himself. He should be ashamed.”

Persephone had never been to one of Hades' clubs, but she had to admit, she was curious—about the people who attended and the god who owned it. What possessed people to bargain their soul? Was it a desire for money or love or wealth?

And what did it say about Hades? That he had all the wealth in the world and only sought to add to his domain rather than help people?

But those were questions for another time.

Persephone had work to do.

She dropped her gaze from the narcissus, and focused on her laptop. It was Thursday, and she had left school an hour ago. She ordered her usual vanilla latte, and needed to finish her research paper so she could concentrate on her internship at New Athens News, the leading news source in New Athens. She started tomorrow, and if things went well, she’d have a job after she graduated in six months.

She was eager to prove herself.

Her internship was located on the sixtieth floor of the Acropolis, a landmark in New Athens as it was the tallest building in the city at one-hundred-and-one floors. One of the first things Persephone had done when she moved here was take an elevator to the top floor observatory where she could see the city in its entirety and it had been everything she’d imagined—beautiful and vast and thrilling. Four years later, it was hard to believe she would be going there on an almost daily basis for work.

Persephone’s phone buzzed on the table, drawing her attention. She found a message from her best friend, Lexa Sideris. Lexa was her first friend when she’d moved to New Athens. She’d turned around to face Persephone in class and asked her if she wanted to pair up for their lab. They’d been inseparable ever since. Persephone had been drawn to Lexa’s edginess—she had tattoos, hair as black as night, and a love of the Goddess of Witchcraft, Hecate.

Where are you?

Persephone responded, The Coffee House.

Why? We need to celebrate!

Persephone smiled. Ever since she’d told Lexa about landing her internship two weeks ago, she’d been hounding her to go out for drinks. Persephone had managed to postpone the outing, but she was quickly running out of excuses and Lexa knew it.

I am celebrating. Persephone texted. With a vanilla latte.

Not with coffee. Alcohol. Shots. You + Me. Tonight.

Before Persephone could respond, a waitress approached holding a tray and her steaming latte. Persephone came here often enough to know the girl was as new as the narcissus. Her hair was in two braids, and her eyes were dark and laced with heavy lashes.

The girl smiled and asked, “Vanilla latte?”

“Yes,” Persephone said.

The waitress sat Persephone’s mug down, and then tucked her tray under her arm.

“Need anything else?”

Persephone met the girl’s gaze. “Do you think Lord Hades has a sense of humor?”

It wasn’t a serious question—and Persephone thought it more funny than anything, but the girl’s eyes widened, and she responded, “I don’t know what you mean.”

The waitress was clearly uncomfortable, probably at hearing Hades’ name. Most tried to avoid saying it, or they called him Aidoneus to avoid drawing his attention, but Persephone wasn’t afraid. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was a goddess.

“I think he must have a sense of humor,” she explained. “The narcissus are a symbol of spring and rebirth,” her fingers hovered over the wilted petals. If anything, the flower should be her symbol. “Why else would he claim it as his?”

Persephone stared back at the girl, and her cheeks flushed. She stammered, “L-let me know if you need anything.”

She bowed her head and went back to work.

Persephone snapped a picture of her latte and sent it to Lexa before taking a sip.

She put her earbuds in and consulted her planner. Persephone liked being organized, but more than that, she liked being busy. Her weeks were packed—school on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and up to three hours each day at her internship. The more she did, the more excuses she had for not returning home to see her mother in Olympia.

Next week, she had a history test and a paper due for the same class. She wasn’t worried, though. History was one of her favorite subjects. They were discussing The Great Descent, the name given to the day the gods came to Earth and The Great War, the terrible and bloody battles that followed.

It wasn’t long before Persephone was lost in her research and writing. She was reading a scholar who claimed Hades’ decision to resurrect Zeus and Athena’s heroes had been the deciding factor in the final battle when a pair of well-manicured hands slammed Persephone’s laptop shut. She jumped and looked into a set of striking blue eyes. They were set in an oval face framed with thick, black hair.

“Guess. What.”

Persephone took out her headphones. “Lexa, what are you doing here?”

“I was walking home from class and thought I’d stop by and tell you the good news!”

She bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet, her blue-black hair bobbed with her.

“What news?” Persephone asked.

“I got us into Nevernight!” Lexa could barely keep a handle on her voice, and at the mention of the famous club, several people turned to stare.

“Shh!” Persephone commanded. “Do you want to get us killed?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lexa rolled her eyes, but she lowered her voice, knowing Persephone wasn’t overreacting. Nevernight was impossible to get into. There was a three-month waiting list, and Persephone knew why.

Nevernight was owned by Hades.

Most businesses owned by the gods were insanely popular. Dionysus’ line of wines sold out in seconds and were rumored to contain ambrosia. It was also exceedingly common for mortals to find themselves in the Underworld after drinking too much of the nectar.

Aphrodite’s couture gowns were so coveted, a girl killed for one just a few months ago. There was a trial and everything.

Nevernight was no different.

“How did you manage to get on the list?” Persephone asked.

“A guy at my internship can’t make it. He’s been on the waiting list for two years. Can you believe how lucky? You. Me. Nevernight. Tonight!”

“I can’t go.”

Lexa’s shoulders fell. “Come on, Persephone. I got us into Nevernight! I don’t want to go alone!”

“Take Iris.”

“I want to take you. We’re supposed to be celebrating. Besides, this is part of your college experience!”

Persephone was pretty sure Demeter would disagree. She had promised her mother several things before coming to New Athens to attend university, among them that she would stay away from the gods.

Granted, she hadn’t kept many of her promises. She’d changed her major halfway through her first semester from botany to journalism. She would never forget her mother’s tight smile or the way she’d said, ‘how nice’ between gritted teeth when she’d discovered the truth. Persephone had won the battle, but Demeter declared war. The day after, everywhere she went, one of Demeter’s nymphs went, too.

Still, majoring in botany was not as important as staying away from the gods because the gods didn’t know Persephone existed.

Well, they knew Demeter had a daughter, but she had never been introduced at court in Olympia. They definitely didn’t know she was masquerading as a mortal. Persephone wasn’t sure how the gods would react to discovering her, but she knew how the entire world would react, and it wouldn’t be good. They would have a new god to learn and to scrutinize. She wouldn’t be able to exist—she would lose the freedom she had just gained, and she wasn’t interested in that.

Persephone didn’t often agree with her mother, but even she knew it was best she lead a normal, mortal life. She wasn’t like other gods and goddesses.

“I really need to study and write a paper, Lexa. Plus, I start my internship tomorrow.”

She was determined to make a good impression, and showing up hungover or sleep-deprived on her first day wasn’t the way to go about it.

“You’ve studied!” Lexa indicated to her laptop and stack of notes on the table. But what Persephone had really been doing is studying a flower and thinking about the God of the Dead. “And we both know you’ve already written that paper, you’re just a perfectionist.”

Persephone’s cheeks flushed. So what if it was true? School was the first and only thing she was good at.

“Please, Persephone! We’ll leave early so you can get some rest.”

“What am I going to do at Nevernight, Lex?”

“Dance! Drink! Kiss! Maybe gamble a little? I don’t know, but isn’t that the fun of it?”

Persephone blushed again and looked away. The narcissus seemed to glare back at her, reflecting all of her failures. She had never kissed a boy. She had never been around men until she’d come to college, and even then, she kept her distance, mostly out of fear her mother would materialize and smite them.

That was not an exaggeration. Demeter had always warned her against men.

“You are two things to gods,” she’d told Persephone when she was very young. “A power-play or a play-thing.”

“Surely you are wrong, mother. Gods love. There are several who are married.”

Demeter had laughed. “Gods marry for power, my flower.”

And, as Persephone had gotten older, she had come to realize that what her mother said was true. None of the gods who were married actually loved each other, and instead spent most of their time cheating and then seeking revenge for the betrayal.

That meant Persephone was going to die a virgin, because Demeter had also made it clear that mortals weren’t an option, either.

“They…age,” she’d said in disgust.

Persephone had decided not to argue with her mother about how age didn’t matter if it was true love, because she’d come to realize that it wasn’t about being Divine or a mortal—it was that her mother didn’t believe in love.

Well, not romantic love at least.

“I…don’t have anything to wear,” Persephone tried weakly.

“You can borrow anything from my closet. I’ll even do your hair and makeup. Please, Persephone.”

She pursed her lips, considering.

She would have to sneak away from the nymphs her mother had planted at their apartment and strengthen her glamour which would cause problems. Demeter would want to know why Persephone was suddenly in need of more magic. Then again, she could blame the extra coverage on her internship.

Without glamour, Persephone’s anonymity would be ruined as there was one obvious characteristic that identified all gods as Divine, and that was their horns. Persephone’s were white and spiraled straight into the air like those of a greater kudu, and while her usual glamour had never failed around mortals, she wasn’t so sure it worked for a god as powerful as Hades.

“I don’t really want to meet Hades,” she said at last.

Those words tasted bitter on her tongue because they were really a lie. A truer statement would be she was curious about him and his world. She found it interesting that he was so elusive and the bets he made with mortals completely appalling. The God of the Dead represented everything she wasn’t—something dark and tempting.

Tempting because he was a mystery and mysteries were adventures, and that’s what Persephone really craved. Maybe it was the journalist in her, but she’d like to ask him some questions.

“Hades won’t be there,” Lexa said. “Gods never run their own businesses!”

That was true, and probably truer of Hades. It was well-known that he preferred the dark gloom of the Underworld.

Lexa stared at Persephone for a long moment and then leaned across the table again.

“Is this about your mom?” She asked in a low voice.

Persephone stared at her friend for a moment, surprised. She didn’t talk about her mom. She figured the quieter she was about her, the fewer questions she’d have to answer, and the fewer lies she’d have to tell.

“How did you know?” Was the only thing Persephone could think to ask.

Lexa shrugged. “Well, you never talk about her and she came by the apartment a couple weeks ago while you were in class.”

“What?” Persephone’s mouth dropped open. This was the first time she had heard of this visit. “What did she say? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Lexa puts up her hands. “Okay, first, your mom is scary. I mean, she’s gorgeous just like you, but,” Lexa pauses to shiver. “Cold. Second, she told me not to tell you.”

“And you listened to her?”

“Well, yeah. I sorta thought she would tell you. She said she hoped to surprise you, but since you weren’t home, she’d just call.”

Persephone rolled her eyes. Demeter had never called her. That was likely because she’d been there looking for something.

“Did she come into our apartment?”

“She asked to see your room.”

“Dammit.” Persephone was going to have to check the mirrors. It was possible her mother had left an enchantment so she could check up on the goddess.

“Anyway. I got the sense that she’s…over-protective.”

That was the understatement of the year. Demeter was over-protective to the point that Persephone had virtually no contact with the outside world for eighteen years of her life.

“Yeah, she’s a bitch.”

Lexa raised her brows, looking amused.

“Your words not mine,” she paused and then hedged. “Wanna talk about it?”

“No,” she said. Talking about it wouldn’t make Persephone feel any better—but a trip to Nevernight might. She smiled. “But I’ll go with you tonight.”

She’d probably regret the decision tomorrow, especially if her mom found out, but right now, she was feeling rebellious and what better way to rebel than going to the club of her mother’s least favorite god?

“Really?” Lexa clapped her hands. “Oh, my gods, we’ll have so much fun, Persephone!” Lexa jumped to her feet. “We have to start getting ready!”

“It’s only three.”

“Uh, yeah,” Lexa pulled at her long, dark hair. “This hair is gross.



Plus, it takes forever to style and now I have to do your hair and makeup, too. We need to start now!”

Persephone didn’t make any move to leave.

“I’ll catch up with you in a moment,” she said. “Promise.”

Lexa smiled. “Thank you, Persephone. This will be great. You’ll see.”

Lexa hugged her before practically dancing down the street.

Persephone smiled, watching Lexa go. At that moment, the waitress from earlier returned and reached to take Persephone’s mug away. The goddess’s hand shot out, holding the girl’s wrist tight.

“If you report to my mother anything but what I tell you, I will kill you.”

It was the same girl from earlier with her cute braids and dark eyes, but beneath the young college girl glamour, a nymph’s features rang true—small nose, vibrant eyes and angled features. Persephone had noticed earlier when the girl had delivered her drink, but hadn’t felt the need to call her out. She was just doing what Demeter told her to do—spying. But after the conversation with Lexa, Persephone wasn’t taking any chances.

The girl cleared her throat and didn’t meet Persephone gaze. “If your mother discovers I lied, she’ll kill me.”

“Who do you fear most?” Persephone had learned long ago that words were her most powerful weapon.

She tightened her hold on girl’s wrist before releasing her. The nymph cleaned up quickly and ran away. Persephone had to admit, she felt bad for the threat, but she hated being watched and she hated being followed. The nymphs were like Demeter’s claws, and they were lodged in Persephone’s skin.

Her eyes fell to the dying narcissus and she caressed the wilted petals with the tips of her fingers. At Demeter’s touch, it would have swelled with life, but at her touch, it curled and crumbled.

Persephone might be the Daughter of Demeter and the Goddess of Spring, but she couldn’t grow a damn thing.





CHAPTER II – NEVERNIGHT



Nevernight was a slender obsidian pyramid with no windows. It was taller than the bright buildings around it, and from a distance, looked like a disruption in the fabric of the city. The tower could be seen from anywhere in New Athens. Demeter believed and often said that the only reason Hades built the tower so tall was to remind mortals of their finite life.

Persephone was beginning to grow anxious the longer she stood in the shadow of Hades’ club. Lexa had gone to talk to a couple of girls she recognized from school up the line, leaving her to hold their place alone. She was out of her element, surrounded by strangers, preparing to enter another god’s territory, and wearing a sexy yet revealing dress. She found herself folding and unfolding her arms, unable to decide if she wanted to hide the low cut of the outfit or embrace it. She’d borrowed the pink sparkly number from Lexa who was far less shapely. Her hair fell in loose curls around her face, and Lexa had applied minimal makeup to show off Persephone’s natural beauty.

If her mother saw her now, she’d send her right back to the greenhouse, or as Persephone had come to refer to it, the glass prison.

That thought sent her stomach into a spiral. She looked around, wondering if Demeter’s spies were about. Had her threat to the waitress at The Coffee House been enough to keep the girl silent about her plans with Lexa? Since she’d told her best friend she’d come tonight, her imagination had run wild with all the ways Demeter might punish her if she were caught. Despite her mother’s nurturing ways, she was a vengeful punisher. In fact, Demeter had a whole plot in the greenhouse dedicated to punishment—every flower that grew there had been a nymph, a king, a creature that had incurred her wrath.

It was that wrath that made her paranoid and had her checking every mirror in her house when she’d returned to the apartment earlier.

“Oh, my gods!” Lexa was a vision in red, and eyes tracked her as she returned to Persephone’s side. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”

Persephone almost laughed. She wasn’t as impressed with the grandeur of the gods. She felt that if they could flaunt their wealth, immortality and power, the least they could do was help humanity. Instead, the gods spent their time pitting mortal against mortal and destroying and reforming the world for fun.

Persephone looked up at the tower again and frowned. “Black’s not really my color.”

“You’ll sing a different tune when you lay eyes on Hades,” Lexa said.

Persephone glared at her roommate. “You told me he wasn’t here!”

Lexa placed her hands on Persephone’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Persephone. Don’t get me wrong, you’re hot and all, but…what are the actual odds you’ll catch Hades’ attention? This place is packed.”

Lexa had a point—and yet, what if her glamour failed? Her horns would catch Hades’ attention. There was no way he’d pass up the chance to confront another god on his premises, especially one he’s never met.

Persephone’s stomach knotted, and she fidgeted with her hair and smoothed her dress. She wasn’t aware that Lexa was watching her until she said, “You know, you can just be honest and admit you’d like to meet him.”

Persephone’s laughter was shaky. “I don’t want to meet Hades.”

She wasn’t sure why it was so hard to say she was interested, but she couldn’t bring herself to admit that she might actually want to meet the god.

Lexa gave her a knowing look, but before her best friend could say anything, shouts came from the front of the line. Persephone peeked around to get a look at what was going on. A man tried to take a swing at a large ogre guarding the entrance to the club. It was a terrible idea. Of course, Hades employed the creatures to guard his fortress. They were notoriously ruthless and brutal. The ogre didn’t even blink as his hand closed down on the man’s wrist. Out of the shadows, two more ogres emerged. They were large and dressed in black. They grabbed the man and dragged him away, down the sidewalk.

“No! Wait! Please! I just want—I just need her back!”

It was a long while before Persephone could no longer hear his voice.

Beside her, Lexa sighed. “There’s always one.”

Persephone looked at her, questioningly.

Lexa shrugged. “What? There’s always a story in the Delphi Divine about some mortal trying to break into the Underworld to rescue their loved ones.”

The Delphi Divine was Lexa’s favorite gossip magazine. There were few things that rivaled Lexa’s obsession with the gods—except maybe fashion.

“But that’s impossible.”

Everyone knew Hades was notorious for enforcing the borders of his realm—no soul in and no soul out without his knowledge.

Persephone had a feeling it was the same for his club.

And that thought sent shivers down her spine.

“Doesn’t keep people from trying,” Lexa said.

When she and Lexa came under the gaze of the ogre, Persephone felt exposed. One glance at the creature’s beady eyes, and she almost called it quits there. Instead, she crossed her arms over her chest and tried to avoid looking at the monster’s misshapen face for too long. It was covered in boils and it had an underbite that exposed razor sharp, yellow teeth. She wasn’t worried if the creature could see through her glamour. Her mother’s magic surpassed that of the ogres.

Lexa gave her name, and the ogre paused as he spoke into a mic. After a moment, he reached forward and pulled open the door to Nevernight.

Persephone was surprised to find that the small spaced they entered was dim and silent and filled with two more ogres. She recognized them from earlier when they’d dragged the man away from the club.

The ogres raked their gazes over Lexa and Persephone and then asked, “Purses?”

They opened their clutches so the two could check for prohibited materials, including phones and cameras.

The one rule at Nevernight was that photos were forbidden. In fact, Hades had this rule for any event he attended.

“How would Hades even know if some curious mortal snapped a photo?” Persephone had asked Lexa earlier when she’d explained the rule.

“I have no idea how he knows,” Lexa admitted. “I just know that he does, and the consequences aren’t worth it.”

“What are the consequences?”

“A broken phone, blackballed from Nevernight, and a write up in a gossip magazine.”

Persephone cringed. Hades was serious, and she guessed that made sense. The god was notoriously private. He hadn’t even been linked to a lover. Persephone doubted Hades had taken a vow of chastity like Artemis and Athena, and yet he managed to stay out of the public eye.

She sort of admired that about him.

Once they were cleared, the ogres opened another set of doors. Lexa grabbed Persephone’s hand and pulled her through.

A blast of cool air hit her, carrying the scent of spirits, sweat, and something akin to bitter oranges.

Narcissus, Persephone recognized the scent.

The Goddess of Spring found herself on a balcony overlooking the floor of the club. There were people everywhere—crowded around tables playing cards and drinking, at the bar shoulder to shoulder, their silhouettes ignited by a red backlight. Several plush booths were arranged in cozy settings and packed with people, but it was the center of the club that drew Persephone’s attention. A sunken dance floor held bodies like water in a basin. People move against each other in a mesmerizing rhythm under a stream of red light. Overhead, the ceiling was lined with crystal and wrought-iron chandeliers.

“Come on!” Lexa pulled Persephone down a set of stairs that led to the ground floor. She held on tight to Lexa’s hand, afraid she would lose her as they wove through the crowd.

It took her a moment to figure out which direction her friend was going, but they soon found themselves at the bar. They squeezed into a space only big enough for one person.

“Two manhattans,” Lexa ordered. Just as she reached for her clutch, an arm snaked between them and threw down a few dollars.

A voice followed, “Drinks on me.”

Lexa and Persephone turned to find a man standing behind them. He had a jawline as sharp as a diamond and a head of thick, curly hair. It was as dark as his eyes, and his skin was a beautiful, burnished brown. He was one of the most handsome men Persephone had ever seen.

“Thanks,” Lexa breathed.

“No problem,” he said, flashing a set of pretty, white teeth—a welcome sight compared to the ogre’s grisly fangs. “First time at Nevernight?”

Lexa answered quickly, “Yes. You?”

“Oh…I’m a regular here,” he said.

Persephone glanced at Lexa, who blurted exactly what Persephone was thinking. “How?”

The man offered a warm laugh. “Just lucky, I guess,” he said and extended his hand. “Adonis.”

He shook Lexa’s hand and then Persephone’s.

“Would you like to join my table?” Adonis asked.

“Sure,” They said in unison, feeling giddy.

With their drinks in hand, Persephone and Lexa follow Adonis to one of the booths they had seen from the balcony. Each area had two crescent-shaped, velvet couches with a table between them. There were already several people there—six guys and five girls—but they shifted so Lexa and Persephone could have a seat.

“All, this is Lexa and Persephone.” Adonis pointed to his group of friends, saying names, but Persephone only caught those who were closest to her—Aro, Xeres, and Sybil. Aro and Xeres looked like siblings. They both had ginger hair, a spray of freckles, pretty blue eyes, and the same, willow-thin body. She soon found out they were twins. Sybil was blond and beautiful. She had long legs and wore a simple white dress. She sat between the twins and leaned over Aro to speak to them.

“Where are you all from?” she asked.

“Ionia,” Lexa said.

“Olympia,” Persephone said.

The girl’s eyes widened. “You lived in Olympia? I bet it was beautiful!”

Persephone had lived far, far away from the city proper in her mother’s glass greenhouse and hadn’t seen much of Olympia. It was one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Greece. It was where the gods held Council and had sprawling estates. When the Divine were away, many of the mansions and surrounding gardens were open to tour.

“It was beautiful,” Persephone said. “But New Athens is beautiful, too. I…didn’t really have much freedom there.”

Sybil seemed to understand. “Parents?”

Persephone nodded.

She learned the boys and Sybil were from New Delphi and also attended New Athens University like she and Lexa.

“What are you studying?” Persephone asked.

“Architecture,” the boys said in unison, which meant they were in the College of Hestia.

“I’m in the College if the Divine.” Sybil said.

“Sybil is an Oracle,” Aro said, pointing to her with his thumb.

The girl blushed and averted her eyes.

“That means you will serve a god!” Lexa said, eyes wide.

Oracles were coveted positions among mortals, and to become one, they had to be born with certain prophetic gifts. Oracles acted as messengers for the gods. In ancient times, that meant serving in temples. Now it meant serving as their press manager. Oracles gave statements and organized press circuits, especially when a god had something prophetic to communicate.

“Apollo’s already got his eye on her,” said Xeres.

Sybil rolled her eyes. “It’s not as wonderful as it sounds. My family was not happy.”

Sybil didn’t need to say it for Persephone to understand. Her parents were what the Faithful and the god-fearing called Impious.

The Impious were a group of mortals who rejected the gods when they came to Earth. Having already felt abandoned by them, they were not eager to obey. There was a revolt and two sides were born. Even the gods who supported the Impious used mortals like puppets, dragging them across battlefields. There was destruction, and chaos reigned. After a year of fighting, the battle was over.

The gods had promised a new life, something better than Elysium (apparently, Hades didn’t like that too well), but the gods delivered—they threaded together continents and dubbed the new landmass New Greece, splicing it into territories with great, gleaming cities.

“My parents would have been ecstatic,” Lexa said.

Persephone met Sybil’s gaze. “I’m sorry they weren’t excited for you.”

She shrugged. “It’s better now that I’m here.”

The goddess got the feeling that she and Sybil had a lot in common when it came to their parents.

Several shots later, the conversation lapsed into hilarious stories of the trio’s friendship and Persephone became distracted by her surroundings. She noticed small details like strands of tiny lights overhead that looked like stars in the dark above, single-stemmed narcissus on the tables at each booth, and the wrought-iron rails of the second story balcony where a lone figure loomed.

That’s where her gaze stayed, meeting a pair of shadowy eyes. Had she thought earlier that Adonis was the most handsome man she’d ever seen?

She’d been wrong.



That man was now staring at her.



She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but they ignited a fire under her skin, and it was like he knew because his full lips curved into a harsh smile, drawing attention to his strong jaw, covered in dark stubble. He was big, well over six and a half feet tall and dressed in darkness from his inky hair to his black suit.

Her throat went dry and she was suddenly uncomfortable. She fidgeted and crossed her legs, instantly regretted the move, because the man’s gaze fell there and held for a moment before sliding back up her frame, snagging on her curves. The fire he’d ignited under her skin pooled low in her stomach, reminding her of how empty she felt, how desperately she needed to be filled up.

Who was this man, and how could she possibly feel this way about a stranger? She needed to break this connection that had created this tangible, suffocating energy between them.

All it took was seeing a pair of delicate hands slip around the man’s waist. She didn’t wait to see the woman’s face. She turned toward Lexa and cleared her throat.

The group had moved on to talking about the Pentathlon—an annual athleticism competition with five different sporting events, including a long jump, javelin throw, discus throw, a wrestling match, and a series of short races. It was hugely popular, and the cities of New Greece were very competitive.

Persephone wasn’t really a sports fan, but she did love the spirit of the Pentathlon, and enjoyed cheering for New Athens in the tournament. She tried to follow the conversation, but her body was charged and her mind was on other things—like how it would feel to be taken by the man on the balcony. He could fill this emptiness, stroke this fire, end her suffering.

Except that he was obviously taken—and if not taken, otherwise engaged with another woman.

She wanted to look over her shoulder and see if he still stood on the balcony. She resisted for a while until her curiosity won out. She hated how disappointed she felt when she discovered the balcony was empty. She craned her neck, searching the crowd.

“Looking for Hades?” Adonis joked, and Persephone’s gaze snapped to his.

“Oh, no—”

“I heard he was here tonight,” Lexa interrupted.

Adonis laughed. “Yeah, he’s usually upstairs.”

“What’s upstairs?” Persephone asked.

“A lounge. It’s quieter. More intimate. I guess he prefers the peace when he’s negotiating his terms.”

“Terms?” Persephone asked.

“Yeah, you know, for his contracts. Mortals come here to play him for things—money or love or whatever. The fucked up part is, if the mortal loses, he gets to pick the stakes and he’ll usually ask them to do something impossible.”

“What do you mean?”

“Apparently he can see vices or whatever. So he’ll ask the addict to remain sober and the sex addict to be chaste. If they’re meet the terms, they get to live. If they fail, he gets their soul. It’s like he wants them to lose.”

Persephone felt a little sick. She hadn’t known the extend of Hades’ gambling. The most she’d heard is that he asked for the mortal’s soul, but this sounded much, much worse. It was...manipulation.

“Is...anyone allowed up there?” Persephone asked. She was curious—how did Hades choose which bargains to accept? And how did Hades know these mortals weaknesses? Did he consult the Fates or possess this power himself?

“If you’re given the password,” he said.

“How do you get the password?” Lexa asked.

Adonis shrugged. “Hell if I know. I don’t come here to bargain with the God of the Dead.”

Though she had no desire to enter into a bargain with Hades, she did wonder how people came by the password. How did Hades accept a wager? Did mortals offer their case to the god who then deemed their case worthy?

“Persephone, bathroom,” Lexa said and stood, grabbing Persephone’s free hand.

She dragged her across the crowded floor to the restroom. While they waited at the end of a long line, Lexa turned to chat about Adonis.

“Have you seen a more attractive male?” She asked dreamily.

Persephone would have liked to inform her that while she was ogling Adonis, she’d missed the man who deserved the term. Instead, she said, “You’re smitten.”

“I’m in love,” she said.

Persephone rolled her eyes. “You can’t be in love, you just met him!”

“Okay, maybe not love,” she said. “But if he asked me to carry his babies, I’d agree.”

“You are ridiculous.”

“Just honest,” she said, grinning. Then she looked at Persephone seriously and said, “It’s okay to be vulnerable, you know?”

“What do you mean?” Persephone’s question was snappier than she intended.

Lexa shrugged and then said. “Never mind.”

Persephone wanted to ask Lexa to elaborate. What had she meant about being vulnerable? But before she could, a stall opened up and Lexa left. Persephone waited, sorting through her thoughts, trying to figure out what Lexa might have been talking about when another stall opened up.

After Persephone used the restroom, she looked for Lexa, expecting her to be waiting, but couldn’t find her. She looked toward the balcony where Hades supposedly made his deals. Had her friend wandered up?

Then her gaze met a pair of sapphire eyes. A woman was leaning against the column at the end of the stairs. Persephone thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t place her. Her hair was like gold silk and as radiant as Helios’ sun. She had skin the color of cream, and she wore a modern version of a peplos in the color sea green.

“Looking for someone?” she asked.

“My friend,” Persephone said. “She was wearing red.”

“She went up,” the woman said, and tilted her chin toward the steps. Persephone followed the woman’s gaze and the lady asked, “Have you been up?”

“Oh, no, I haven’t,” Persephone said.

“I can give you the password.”

“How did you get the password?”

The woman shrugged. “Here and there,” she paused. “So?”

Persephone couldn’t deny she was curious. This was the thrill she’d been seeking—the adventure she craved.

“Tell me.”

The woman chuckled, her eyes glittering in a way that made Persephone wary. “Pathos.”

Pathos meant tragedy. Persephone found it horribly ominous.

“T-thanks,” she said to the woman and headed up the spiral steps to the second floor. As she topped the stairs, she found nothing but a set of dark doors embellished with gold and a gorgon standing guard.

The creature’s face was badly scared—evident, even with the white blindfold covering her eyes. Like others of her kind, she once had snakes in place of hair. Now, a white hooded cloak covered her head and hid her body.

As Persephone approached, she noticed that the walls were reflective, and she caught herself in the surface, observing the blush of her cheeks and the brightness of her eyes. Her glamour had weakened since she’d been here. She hoped if anyone noticed, she could blame it on the excitement and the alcohol.

The gorgon lifted her head, but did not speak. Persephone wasn’t sure why she felt so nervous. Maybe it was because she didn’t know what to expect beyond those doors. For a moment, there was silence, and then she heard the creature inhale and she froze.

“Divine,” the gorgon purred.

“Excuse me?” Persephone asked.

“Goddess,” the gorgon said.

“You are mistaken.”

The gorgon laughed. “I may have no eyes, but I know a god when I smell one. What hope have you of entering?”

“You are bold for a creature who knows they speak with a goddess,” Persephone said.

The gorgon smiled. “Only a goddess when it serves you?”

“Pathos!” Persephone snapped.

The gorgon’s smiled remained, but she opened the door and asked no more questions.

“Enjoy, my lady.”

Persephone glared at the monster as she entered a smaller, smoky room. Unlike the main floor of the club, this space was intimate and quiet. Overhead, there was a single, large chandelier that provided enough light to ignite tables and faces, but not much else. There were several clusters of people gathered playing cards, and none of them seemed to notice her.

When the door clicked shut behind her, she started to explore, looking for Lexa, but found herself distracted by the people and the games. She watched as graceful hands dispensed cards and listened as players at the table bantered back and forth. Then she came to an oval table where the occupants were leaving. She wasn’t sure what drew her to it, but she decided to sit.

The dealer nodded. “Madam,” he said.

“Do you play?” A voice asked from behind her. It was a deep rumble she felt in her chest.

She turned and found the man from the balcony. Her blood heated to an impossible level, making her hot all over. She squeezed her crossed legs together and clenched her hands into fists to keep from fidgeting under his gaze.

Up close she was able to fill in a few gaps in her earlier assessment of his appearance. He was beautiful in a dark way—in a way that promised heartbreak. His eyes were the color of obsidian and framed by thick lashes. His hair was pulled into a bun at the back of his head. She had been right that he was tall. She had to tip her head back just to meet his gaze.

When Persephone’s chest started to ache, she realized she had been holding her breath since the man approached. Slowly, she drew in air—with it, the smell of him: smoke and spice and winter air. It filled every empty place inside her.

As she stared, he took a sip from his glass, licking his lips clean. He was sin incarnate. She could feel it in the way her body responded to his—and she didn’t want him to know. So, she smiled and said, “If you are willing to teach.”

His lips quirked, and he raised a dark brow. He took another drink, then approached the table, taking a seat beside her.

“It’s brave to sit down at a table without knowing the game.”

She met the man’s gaze. “How else would I learn?”

“Hmm.” He considered, and Persephone decided that she loved his voice. “Clever.”

The man stared like he was trying to place her, and she shivered. “I have never seen you before.”

“Well, I have never been here before,” she said and paused. “You must come here often.”

His lips quirked. “I do.”

“Why?” she asked. The question surprised him and her—she hadn’t actually meant to say that out loud. “I mean—you don’t have to answer that.”

“I will answer it,” he said. “If you will answer a question for me.”

She stared at him for a moment, and then nodded.

“Fine.”

“I come because it is...fun,” he said, but it didn’t sound like he knew what that was. “Now you—why are you here tonight?”

“My friend Lexa was on the list,” she said.

“No,” he said. “That is the answer to a different question. Why are you here tonight?”

She considered his question, and then said. “It seemed rebellious at the time.”

“And now you aren’t so sure?”

“Oh, I am sure it is rebellious,” Persephone said, she dragged her finger along the surface of the table. “I’m just not sure how I’ll feel about it tomorrow.”

“Who are you rebelling against?”

She looked at him and smiled. “You said one question.”

His smile matched hers and it made her heart beat harder in her chest. “So I did.”

Staring back at those endless eyes, she felt he could see her—not the glamour or even her skin and bones, but the core of her, and it made her shiver.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“What?”

“You’ve been shivering a lot since you sat down,” he observed. She felt her face redden and she suddenly blurted, “Who was that woman with you earlier?”

He looked confused for a moment and then said, “Oh, Minthe. She’s always putting her hands where they don’t belong.”

Persephone paled. “I…think I should go.”

He stopped her with a hand on hers. His touch was electric, and she gasped at the contact, pulling away quickly.

“No,” he said, almost commanding and Persephone glared at him.

“Excuse me?”

“What I mean to say is, I haven’t taught you how to play yet.” His voice lowered and it was mesmerizing. “Allow me.”

It was a mistake to hold his gaze because it was impossible to say no. She swallowed and managed to relax. “Then teach me.”

His eyes burned into her before falling to the cards. He shuffled them, explaining, “This is poker.” She noted that he had graceful hands and long fingers. Did he play piano? “We will play five-card draw and we’ll start with a bet.”

Persephone looked down at herself—she hadn’t brought her clutch, but the man was quick to say, “A question answered, then. If I win, you will answer any question I pose, and if you win, I will answer yours.”

Persephone grimaced. She knew what he was going to ask, but answering questions was far better than losing all her money and her soul, so she said, “Deal.”

Those sensual lips curled into a smile, which deepened lines on his face that only made him look more attractive. Who was this man? She guessed she could ask his name, but she wasn’t interested in making friends at Nevernight.

The man explained that, in poker, there were ten different rankings, the lowest being the high card and the highest being the royal flush. The goal was to draw a higher rank than the other player. He explained other things, like checking, folding, and bluffing.

“Bluffing?”

“Sometimes, poker is just a game of deception...especially when you’re losing.”

Hades dealt each of them five cards. Persephone looked at her hand and tried to remember what Hades had said about the different ranks. She laid her cards down, face up and the man did the same.

“You have a pair of queens,” he said. “And I have a full house.”

“So...you win,” she said.

“Yes,” he replied, and then claimed his prize immediately. “Who are you rebelling against?”

She smiled wryly. “My mother.”

He raised a brow. “Why?”

“You’ll have to win another hand if I’m going to answer.”

So, he dealt another and won again. This time, he didn’t ask the question, just looked at her expectantly.

She sighed. “Because...she made me mad.”

He stared at her, waiting, and she smiled. “You never said the answer had to be detailed.”

His grin matched hers. “Noted for the future, I assure you.”

“The future?”

“Well, I hope this isn’t the last time we’ll play poker.”

Butterflies erupted in her stomach. She should tell him this was the first and final time she would come to Nevernight.

He dealt again and won. Persephone was getting tired of losing and answering this man’s questions. Why was he so interested in her anyway? Where was that woman he’d been with earlier?

“Why are you angry with your mother?”

She considered this question for a moment, and then said, “Because...she wants me to be something I cannot.” Persephone dropped her gaze to the cards, and then said, “I don’t understand why people do this.”

He tilted his head, as if questioning. “You are not enjoying our game?”

“I am,” she said. “But...I don’t understand why people play Hades. Why do they want to sell their soul to him?”

“They don’t agree to a game because they want to sell their soul,” he said. “They do it because they think they can win.”

“Do they? Win?”

“Sometimes.”

“Does that anger him, you think?” The question was meant to remain a thought in her head, and yet the words slipped out between her lips.

He smirked, and she could feel it deep in her gut.

“Darling, I win either way.”

Her eyes went wide, and her heart stuttered. She stood quickly and his name slipped out of her mouth like a curse.

“Hades.”

His name on her lips seemed to have an effect on him, but she couldn’t tell if it was good or bad—his eyes darkened, and his smile lines melted into a hard, unreadable mask.

“I have to go.”

She spun and left the small room. This time, she didn’t let him stop her. She hurried down the winding steps and plunged into the mass of bodies on the main floor. All the while, she was highly aware of the spot on her wrist where Hades fingers had touched her skin. Was it an exaggeration to say it burned?

It took her a while to find the exit, and when she did, she pushed through the doors. Outside, she took a few deep breaths and then let the force of what she’d done hit her.

She’d allowed Hades, the God of the Underworld, to instruct her, to touch her, to play her, and question her.

And he had won.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

No, the worst part is that there was a side of her—a side she’d never know existed until tonight—that wanted to run back inside, find him, and demand a lesson in the anatomy of his body.





CHAPTER III – NEW ATHENS NEWS



Persephone checked the mirror to ensure her glamour was in place. It was weak magic because it was borrowed magic, but it was enough to hide her horns and turn her bottle-green eyes mossy.

She reached up to apply a touch more glamour to her eyes. They were the hardest to get right, and it took the most magic to dull their bright, abnormal light. As she lifted her hand, she halted, noticing something on her wrist.

Something dark.

She took a closer look. A series of black dots marked her skin, some smaller, others larger. It looked like a simple, elegant tattoo had been inked on her arm.

And it was wrong.

Persephone turned the faucet on and scrubbed her skin until it was red and raw, but the ink didn’t move or smear. In fact, it seemed to darken.

Then she remembered yesterday at Nevernight when Hades hand had covered hers to keep her from leaving. The warmth of his skin transferred to hers, but when she fled the club later, that warmth turned to a burn which only intensified when she went to bed last night.

She’d turned on the light several times to inspect her wrist, but found nothing.

Until this morning.

Persephone lifted her gaze to the mirror and her glamour rippled from her anger. Why had she obeyed his request to stay? Why had she been blind to the fact that she had invited the God of the Dead to teach her cards?

She knew why. She’d been distracted by his beauty. Why hadn’t anyone warned her that Hades was a charming bastard? That his smile stole breath and his gaze stopped hearts?

What was this thing on her wrist and what did it mean?

She knew one thing for certain: Hades was going to tell her.

Today.

Before she could return to the obsidian tower, however, she had to go to her internship. Her eyes fell to a pretty embellished box her mother had given her. It held jewelry now, but at twelve, it had held five gold seeds. Demeter had crafted them from her magic, and had said they would bloom into roses the color of liquid gold for her, the Goddess of Spring.

Persephone planted them and did her best to nurture the flowers, but instead of growing into the blossoms she expected, they grew withered and black.

She would never forget the look on her mother’s face when she found her staring at the wilted roses—shocked, disappointed, and in disbelief that her daughter’s flowers grew from the ground like something straight out of the Underworld.

Demeter had reached forward, touched the flowers, and they flared with life.

Persephone never went near them again, and avoided that part of the greenhouse.

Looking at the box, the mark on her skin burned hotter, a reminder of another failed attempt to please her mother. She searched through the box until she found a bracelet wide enough to cover the mark. It would have to do until Hades removed it.

As Persephone moved back into her room, her mother appeared in front of her. Persephone jumped.

“By the Gods, mother! Can you at least use the door like a normal parent? And knock?”

The Goddess of Harvest was beautiful and didn’t bother to glamour up to hide her elegant, seven-point antlers. Her hair was blond like Persephone’s, but straight and long. She had creamy skin and her high cheekbones were naturally rosy like her lips. Demeter lifted her pointed chin, assessing Persephone with critical eyes—eyes that changed from brown to green to gold.

“Nonsense,” she said, taking Persephone’s chin between her thumb and forefinger, applying more magic. Persephone knew what she was doing without looking in the mirror—covering her freckles, brightening the color in her cheeks, and straightening her wavy hair. Demeter liked when Persephone resembled her, and Persephone preferred to look as little like her mother as possible.

“You might be playing mortal, but you can still look Divine,” she said.

Persephone rolled her eyes. Her appearance was just another way she disappointed her mother.

“There!” Demeter finally exclaimed, releasing her chin. “Beautiful.”

Persephone looked in the mirror. She had been right—Demeter had covered up everything Persephone liked about herself.

Still, she managed a forced, “Thank you, mother.”

“It was nothing, my flower.” Demeter patted her cheek. “So, tell me about this…job.”

The word sounded like a curse coming from Demeter’s lips. Persephone ground her teeth together. She was surprised by how fast and furious the anger tore through her.

“It’s an internship, mother. If I do well, I might have a job when I graduate.”

Demeter frowned. “Dear, you know you do not have to work.”

“So you say,” she muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Demeter asked.

Persephone turned to her mother and said louder. “I want to do this, mother. I’m good at it.”

“You are good at so many things, Kore,” she said.

“Don’t call me that!” Persephone snapped. Her mother’s eyes flashed. She’d seen that look right before Demeter thrashed one of her nymphs for letting her wander out of sight.

Persephone shouldn’t have gotten angry, but she couldn’t help it. She hated that name. It was her childhood nickname, and it meant exactly that—maiden. The word was like a prison, but worse than that, it reminded her that if she stepped too far out of line, the bars of her prison would only solidify. She was the magic-less daughter of an Olympian. Not only that, she borrowed her mother’s magic. If anything, that was a tether that meant obeying her mother was even more important. Without Demeter's glamour, Persephone couldn’t live in the mortal world anonymously.

“Sorry, mother,” she managed, but she didn’t look at the goddess as she spoke. Not because she was embarrassed, but because she really didn’t mean the apology.

“Oh, my flower. I don’t blame you,” she said, placing her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. “It’s this mortal world. It’s creating a divide between us.”

“Mother, you are being ridiculous,” Persephone said and sighed, placing her hands on either side of her face, and when she spoke again, she meant every word. “You are all I have.”

Demeter smiled, holding her daughter’s wrists. Hades’ mark burned. She leaned in a little, as if to kiss Persephone’s cheek. Instead, she said, “Remember that.”

Then she was gone.

Persephone released her breath and her body withered. Even when she had nothing to hide, dealing with her mother was exhausting. She was constantly on edge, preparing for what she would find unacceptable next. Overtime, Persephone thought she had hardened herself against her mother’s unwanted words, but sometimes they pierced her.

She finished getting ready, choosing a pretty, light pink dress with ruffled sleeves. She paired it with a white wedge shoe and white handbag. On the way out, she stopped to check her reflection in the mirror, pulling glamour from her hair and face, returning her curls and freckles. She smiled, recognizing herself once again.

She headed out. Persephone didn’t have a car and she didn’t have the ability to teleport like other gods, so she either walked or took the bus when she needed to get around New Athens. Today, the sun was out and warm so she decided to walk.

Persephone loved the city because it was so unlike what she’d grown up with. Here, there were mirrored skyscrapers that sparkled under Helios’ warm rays. There were museums filled with histories Persephone had only learned when she moved here. There were buildings that looked like art, and sculptures and fountains on almost every block. Even with all of the stone and glass and metal, there were acres of parks with lush gardens and trees where Persephone had spent many evenings walking. The fresh air reminded her she was free.

She inhaled now, trying to ease her anxiety. Instead, it traveled to her stomach where it knotted, made worse by the inked bracelet around her wrist. She had to get rid of it before Demeter saw it or her few years of freedom turned into a lifetime in a glass box.

It was usually that fear that kept Persephone cautious.

Except for last night—last night, she’d felt rebellious and despite this strange mark on her skin she’d found Nevernight and its king to be everything she had ever desired.

She wished that weren’t so—she wished she’d found Hades repulsive. She wished she hadn’t spent last night recalling how his dark eyes had trailed her body, how she’d had to tip her head back just to meet his gaze, how his graceful hands had shuffled the cards.

How would those long fingers feel against her skin? How would it feel to be lifted into his strong arms and carried away?

After last night, she wanted things she had never wanted before. Soon, her anxiety was replaced with a fire so unfamiliar and so intense, she thought she might turn to ash.

Gods. Why was she thinking like this?

It was one thing to find the God of the Dead attractive, another thing to…desire him. There was absolutely no way anything could happen between them. Her mother hated Hades, and she knew without asking that a relationship between them was forbidden. She also knew that she needed her mother’s magic more than she needed to quench this fire roaring inside her.

She neared the Acropolis, its dazzling, mirror surface almost blinding her. She made her way up the short flight of steps to the gold and glass doors. The lower level of the floor had a row of turnstiles and security guards—necessary for the businesses located in the high rise. Among them, Zeus’s advertising company, Oak & Eagle Creative. Zeus’s admirers were known to wait in crowds outside the Acropolis just for a glimpse of the God of Thunder. Once, a mob had tried to storm the building to reach him, which was sort of ironic considering Zeus was rarely at the Acropolis, and spent most of his time in Olympia.

Zeus’s business wasn’t the only one in need of security though. New Athens News broke some difficult stories—stories that infuriated gods and mortals alike. Persephone wasn’t aware of any retaliation, but as she moved through security, she knew these mortal guards wouldn’t be able to stop an angry god from storming the sixtieth floor for revenge.

After security, she found a bank of elevators that took her up to her floor. The doors opened into to a large reception area with the words New Athens News overhead. A curved, glass desk sat beneath it, and a beautiful woman with long, dark curls greeted her with a smile.

“Persephone,” she said, coming around the desk. She wore a navy cargo dress with gold zippers. “It’s good to see you again.”

The girl’s name was Valerie. Persephone remembered her from her interview.

“Let me take you back. Demetri is expecting you.”

Valerie directed Persephone to the newsroom, which was beyond the glass partition. There, several metal and glass desks were arranged in perfect lines across the floor. There was a flurry of activity—phones ringing, paper shuffling, keys tapping as writers and editors pounded out their next article. The smell of coffee was strong, like the whole place ran on caffeine and ink. Persephone’s heart thudded in her chest with the thrill of it all.

“I saw you were from New Athens University,” Valerie said. “When do you graduate?”

“In six months,” Persephone chimed. She’d dreamed of the moment she’d walk across that grand stage to receive her degree. It would be the pinnacle of her time among mortals.

“You must be so excited.”

“I am,” Persephone responded and glanced at Valerie.

“What about you?” Persephone asked. “When do you graduate?”

“In a couple years,” Valerie said.

“And how long have you been here?”

“About a year,” she said with a smile.

“Do you plan to stay when you graduate?”

“In the building, yes, just a few floors up.”

Ah, she bet Zeus’s marketing company had sourced her.

Valerie knocked on the open door of an office at the very back of the room.

“Demetri, Persephone’s here.”

“Thanks, Valerie,” Demetri said.

The girl turned to the goddess, smiled, and left, allowing room for her to enter the office. Persephone’s new boss was Demetri Aetos. He was older, but it was clear he had been a heartbreaker in his prime. His hair was short on the sides, longer on top, and flecked with grey. He wore black-framed glasses, which gave him a scholarly air. He had what Persephone would consider delicate features—thin lips and a smaller nose. He was tall, but thin. He wore a blue button up, khaki slacks, and a polka dot bowtie.

“Persephone,” he said, coming around his desk and stretching out his hand. She took it. “It’s good to see you again. We are happy to have you.”

“I’m happy to be here, Mr. Aetos,” she said.

“Call me Demetri.”

“Okay…Demetri.” She couldn’t help smiling.

“Please, sit!” He indicated to a chair, and she took a seat. Demetri leaned against his desk, hands in his pockets. “Tell me about yourself.”

When Persephone had first moved here, she hated this question, because there was a point when all she could talk about was her fears—closed spaces, being trapped, escalators. Overtime, though, she’d had enough experiences, it had become easier to define herself by what she liked.

“Well, I’m a student at New Athens University. I’m majoring in journalism and I’ll graduate in May...” she started, and Demetri waved his hand.

“Not what’s on your resume.” He met her gaze, and she noticed that he had blue eyes. He smiled. “What about you—your hobbies, interests…?”

“Oh,” she blushed, thought for a moment and then said, “I like baking. It helps me relax.”

“Oh? Tell me more. What do you like to bake?”

“Anything really. I’ve been challenging myself at sugar cookie art.”

His brows rose and his smile stayed. “Sugar cookie art, huh? That’s a thing?”

“Yes, I’ll show you.”

She pulled out her phone and found a few photos. Of course, she had only taken pictures of her best cookies.

Demetri looked at the photos. “Oh, nice,” he said. “These are great, Persephone.”

He met her gaze as he returned her phone.

“Thank you.” No one but Lexa had ever told her that.

“So, you like to bake. What else?”

“I like to write,” she said. “Stories.”

“Stories? Like fiction?”

“Yes.”

“Romance?” he guessed. It was what most people assumed, and the blush on Persephone’s cheeks wasn’t helping her case.

“No, actually. I like mysteries.”

Demetri’s brows rose again, almost meeting his hairline. “Unexpected,” he said. “I like it. What do you hope to gain from this internship?”

“Adventure,” she couldn’t help it. The word slipped out, but Demetri seemed pleased.

“Adventure,” he said, pushing away from his desk. “If adventure is what you desire, New Athens News can give it to you, Persephone. This position can look like anything you wish—it’s yours to craft and manage. If you want to report, you can report. If you want to edit, you can edit. If you want to get coffee, you get coffee.”

Persephone only had an interest in getting coffee for herself. She didn’t think she could be any more excited, but as Demetri spoke, she had the overwhelming feeling that this internship would change her life.

“I’m sure you know that we find ourselves in the media a lot,” he smiled wryly. “Ironic, considering we are a news source.”

New Athens News was well-known for the number of lawsuits filed against them. There were always complaints of defamation, slander, and invasion of privacy. Believe it or not, those weren’t the worst accusations leveled against the company. Apollo had accused them of being members of Triad, a group of Impious mortals who actively organized against the gods, supporting fairness, freewill, and freedom. The newspaper had denied the claim, of course, as Zeus had declared Triad a terrorist organization, and threatened death to any caught with their propaganda.

What Zeus hadn’t anticipated—or perhaps had—was that the Faithful organized into cults and started a manhunt of their own, killing several who were openly Impious, uncaring if they were associated with Triad or not. It was a horrific time and it took Zeus longer than necessary to come out against the cults. New Athens News said so themselves.

“We seek truth, Persephone,” Demetri said. “There’s power in truth. Do you want power?”

He didn’t even know what he was asking.

“Yes,” she said. “I want power.”

This time when Demetri smiled, he showed his teeth. “Then you will do well here.”

Demetri showed Persephone to her desk, which sat just outside his office. She settled in, checking drawers, noting what supplies she would need to ask for or buy, and stored her purse. A new laptop sat on top. It was cool to the touch, and as she opened it, the dark screen reflected the face of a man. She turned in her chair and met a set of wide, surprised eyes.

“Adonis,” she said.

“Persephone.” He clutched a cup of coffee in one hand, and wore a lavender button up. He looked just as handsome as he did last night, only more professional. “I had no idea you were our new intern.”

“I had no idea you worked here,” she said.

“I’m a senior reporter, mostly focused on entertainment,” he said rather smugly. “We missed you when you left last night.”

She left Hades’ club without telling Lexa and was almost home when she received a call from her worried friend. She’d felt bad, but Persephone hadn’t been able to stay in that dark tower any longer, and it would have been unfair to make Lexa come home just because of her mistake.

“Oh, yes, sorry. I wanted to prepare for my first day.”

“Not going to fault you for that. Well, welcome.”

“Adonis,” Demetri called as he stepped back into the doorframe of his office. “Mind giving Persephone here a tour of our floor?”

“Not at all.” He smiled at her. “Ready?”

Persephone followed Adonis. She was happy to see a familiar face, even if she had just met him last night. It made her feel more comfortable here.

“We call this the workroom. It’s where everyone follows leads and investigates,” he said. People looked up from their desks and waved or smiled at her as they passed. Adonis indicated to a wall of glassed-in rooms. “Interview and conference rooms. Break room. Lounge,” he pointed to a huge room with various, casual sitting areas and warm, low light. It was cozy, and there were already several people nesting. “You’ll probably prefer to write in here when you get the chance.”

Adonis showed her to the supplies closet, and she raided it for pens, sticky notes, and notebooks. As he helped her carry her supplies back to her desk he asked, “So, what kind of journalism are you interested in?”

“I’m leaning toward investigative reporting,” she said.

“Oh, a detective, huh?”

“I like research,” she said.

“Any subject in particular?” he asked.

Hades.

The god’s name popped into her head without warning. She knew it was because of the mark on her wrist. She was anxious to get to Nevernight and figure out what it was.

“No...I just…like to solve mysteries,” she answered.

“Well then, maybe you can help us figure out whose been stealing lunches from the fridge in the break room.”

Persephone laughed.

She got the feeling she was going to like it here.





CHAPTER IV – THE CONTRACT



Less than an hour after leaving the Acropolis, Persephone stood outside Nevernight, pounding on the pristine, black door. She’d taken the bus here and it had nearly drove her insane. She couldn’t sit still. Her mind had stirred up all sorts of fears and anxieties over what the mark might mean. Was this bracelet some sort of...claim? Was it something that would bind her soul to the Underworld? Or was it one of his horrible contracts?

She was about to find out if someone would just answer this damn door!

“Hello!” she called. “Anyone there?”

She continued to pound on the door until her arms hurt. Just when she thought about giving up, the door was yanked open by the ogre who had been staffing it last night. Persephone stumbled into him and quickly pushed away. In the daylight, he was even more gruesome-looking. His thick skin sagged around his neck, and he stared at her with small, squinted eyes.

“What do you want?” His words were a snarl and it wasn’t lost on her that he could crush her skull with his hand alone.

“I must speak with Hades,” she said.

The ogre stared at her and then slammed the door closed.

That really pissed her off.

She banged on the door again. “Bastard! Let me in!” She yelled.

She’d always known ogres existed, but she’d learned some of their weaknesses by reading a few books from Artemis’s Library at school. One of them? They hated being called names.

The ogre tore the door open again and snarled at her, blowing his stinking rot-breath in her face. He probably thought it would scare her away—and it had probably worked on others in the past, but not on Persephone. The mark on her wrist drove her. Her freedom was at stake.

“I demand you let me in!” She stomped her foot, and her fingers curled into her palms. She considered how much space was left in the doorway. Could she get past the huge creature? If she moved quick enough, his girth would probably throw him off balance.

“Who are you, mortal, to demand an audience with the God of the Dead?” The creature asked.

“Your lord has placed a mark upon me, and I will have words with him.”

The creature laughed, beady eyes shining with amusement.

“You would have words with him?”

“Yes, me. Let me in!”

She was growing angrier by the second.

“We are not open,” the creature responded. “You will have to come back.”

“I will not come back, you will let me in now you big, ugly ogre!”

Persephone realized her mistake as soon as the words were out of her mouth. The creature’s face changed. He grabbed her by the neck and lifted her off the ground.

“What are you?” he demanded. “A tricky little nymph?”

She clawed at the ogre’s steel skin, but he only pressed his meaty fingers deeper into her skin. She couldn’t breath and her eyes watered, and the only thing she could do was drop her glamour. As her horns became visible, the creature released her as if she burned.

Persephone staggered, and inhaled deeply. She pressed a hand to her tender throat, but managed to stay on her feet and glare at the ogre in her true form. He lowered his gaze, unable to look upon her or meet her bright, eerie eyes.

“I am Persephone, Goddess of Spring, and if you would like to keep your fleeting life, then you will obey me.”

Her voice shook. She was still rattled from being handled by the ogre. The words she had spoken were her mother’s, used at a time when she’d made threats against a Siren who refused to help her search for Persephone when she wandered away. In reality, Persephone was only a few feet away, hiding behind a nearby shrub. She overheard her mother’s crude words, and filed them away, knowing that without powers, words would be her only weapon.

The door opened behind the ogre, and he stepped aside, lowering to his knees as Hades came into view. Persephone couldn’t breathe. She’d spent all day remembering what he looked like, recalling his elegant but dark features, and yet, her memory was nothing compared to the real thing. She was pretty sure he was wearing the suit from last night, but the tie around his neck was loose, and the buttons of his shirt fell open at the neck, exposing his chest. It was like he’d been interrupted in the middle of undressing.

Then she remembered the woman who had wrapped her arms around his waist—Minthe. Perhaps she had interrupt them. She took great satisfaction from that thought, even though she knew she shouldn’t care.

“Lady Persephone,” he said, his voice was heavy and seductive and she shivered.

She forced her eyes level with his—they were equals, after all, and she wanted him to know it because she was about to make demands. She found him studying her, his head tilted to the side. Being under his gaze in her true form felt strangely intimate and she wanted to call up her glamour again. She had made a mistake, been so angry and so desperate, she’d exposed herself.

“Lord Hades,” she managed with a curt nod. She was proud that her voice did not shake, though her insides did.

“My lord,” the ogre said, hanging his head. “I did not know she was a goddess. I accept punishment for my actions.”

“Punishment?” Persephone questioned, feeling increasingly exposed in the daylight outside the club. It took Hades a moment to peel his gaze from Persephone and look upon the ogre.

“I laid my hands upon a goddess,” the monster said.

“And a woman at that,” Hades added, unhappily. “I will deal with you later.”

Then Hades stepped aside.

“Lady Persephone,” he said and let her enter Nevernight. She was left in the dark as the door closed behind her. The air was heavy, charged with an intensity she felt deep in her belly, and thick with his scent. She wanted to inhale and fill her lungs with it. Instead, she held her breath.

Then he spoke against her ear, his lips brushed feather-light over her skin. “You are full of surprises, darling.”

She inhaled sharply, and twisted to face him, but when she did, Hades was no longer near her. He had opened the door and was waiting for her to enter the club.

“After you, Goddess,” he said. The word wasn’t used mockingly, but it was full of curiosity.

She passed the god and stepped into the club. She found herself on the balcony overlooking the empty floor. The place was surprisingly immaculate. She turned and saw Hades waiting. When she met his gaze, he descended the stairs and she followed.

He crossed the floor, heading for the winding stairs and the second floor. She hesitated.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

He paused and turned toward her. “My office,” he said. “I imagine that whatever you have to say to me demands privacy?”

She opened and closed her mouth, looking around the empty club.

“This seems pretty private.”

“It isn’t,” he said, and headed up the stairs without another word. She followed. As they came to the top of the steps, he took a right—away from the room she’d been in the night before—toward a black wall, elaborately embellished with gold. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed it the night before. Two large doors bore images of vines and flowers curling around Hades’ bident, raised in gold relief. The rest of the wall was patterned with floral designs in gold.

She probably shouldn’t be so surprised that the God of the Dead chose to decorate with flowers—the narcissus was his symbol, after all.

Her eyes were drawn to Hades as he opened one of the gilded doors. She was not eager to be in an enclosed space with him. She didn’t trust her thoughts or her body. This time, he called her out.

“Will you hesitate at every turn, Lady Persephone?” he asked.

She glared. “I was just admiring your decor, Lord Hades. I did not notice this last night.”

“The doors to my quarters are often veiled during business hours,” he replied, and then indicated to the open door. “Shall we?”

Once again, she gathered her courage, and approached. He didn’t leave much room for her to pass, and she brushed against him as she stepped into the room.

She found herself in Hades’ office. The first thing she noticed were the windows that overlooked the club floor. He could see everything from here. There were no windows to the outside, and despite this, the space was warmly lit and oddly cozy, even with its black marble floor. Maybe it had something to do with the fireplace against the wall. A couch and two chairs made a lovely sitting area, and a fur rug only added to the comforting aesthetic. At the far end of the room, elevated like a throne was a large obsidian slab that acted as Hades’ desk. From what she could tell, there was nothing on it—no paperwork or pictures. She wondered if he used it at all or if was just for show.

Immediately in front of her was a table upon which a vase of blood red flowers rested.

She rolled her eyes at the floral arrangement.

Hades closed the door, and she stiffened. This was dangerous. She should have confronted him downstairs where there was more space, where she was better able to think and breath without inhaling him. His boots tapped against the floor as he neared, and her body grew taunt.

Hades stopped in front of her. His eyes scoured her face, lingering on her lips for a split second before lowering to her neck. When he reached out to touch her, Persephone’s hand clamped down on his arm. It wasn’t that she feared him as much as she feared her reaction to his touch.

Their eyes met.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No,” she said, and he nodded, carefully pulling his arm free of her grasp. He crossed the room, Persephone assumed to put distance between them.

Then she remembered she was in her true form, and started to raise her glamour.

“Oh, it’s a little too late to be modest, don’t you think?” Hades said, piercing her with those beautiful dark eyes. He tugged his tie free and she watched it slip from his neck before lifting her eyes to his. He wasn’t smirking like she expected. He looked...primal. Like a starved animal who had finally cornered his prey. She swallowed and hurriedly said, “Did I interrupt something?”

She wasn’t sure she wanted an answer.

The corner of his mouth lifted. “I was just about to go to bed when I heard you demanding entrance to my club.”

Bed? It was well past noon.

“Imagine my surprise when I find the goddess from last night on my doorstep.”

“Did the gorgon tell you?”

She stepped further into the room, angry. Hades was amused.

“No. Euryale did not. I recognized your magic as Demeter’s, but you are not Demeter.” Then he tilted his head like he had earlier. “When you left, I consulted a few texts. I had forgotten Demeter had a daughter. I assumed you were Persephone. Question is, why aren’t you using your own magic?”

“Is that why you did this?” she demanded, removing the bracelet she’d used to cover the mark on her skin, and holding up her arm.

Hades smirked.

Actually smirked.

Persephone wanted to attack him. She clenched her hands at her sides to keep from vaulting across the room.

“No,” he said. “That is the result of losing against me.”

“You were teaching me to play,” she argued.

“Semantics,” he said with a shrug. “The rules of Nevernight are very clear, Goddess.”

“They are anything but clear, and you are an asshole!”

Hades eyes darkened. Apparently, he didn’t like being called names any more than the ogre did. He pushed away from the desk, striding toward her. Persephone took a step back.

“Don’t call me names, Persephone,” he said, and then reached for her wrist. He traced the bracelet all around, making her shiver. “When you invited me to your table, you entered into an agreement. If you had won, you could have left Nevernight with no demands on your time. But you didn’t, and now, we have a contract.”

She swallowed, considering every horrible thing she’d heard about Hades’ contracts and his impossible terms. What darkness would he pull from deep inside her?

“And what does that mean?” Her voice was still biting.

“It means I must choose terms,” he said.

“I don’t want to be in a contract with you,” she said between her teeth. “Take it off!”

“I can’t.”

“You put it there, you can remove it.”

His lips twitched.

“You think this is funny?”

“Oh, darling, you have no idea.”

The word darling slid across her skin and she shivered again. He seemed to notice because he smiled a little bit more.

“I am a goddess,” she tried again. “We are equals.”

“You think our blood changes the fact that you willingly entered into a contract with me? These things are law, Persephone.” She glared at him. “The mark will dissolve when the contract has been fulfilled.” He said it like that should make it all better.

“And what are your terms?” Just because she was asking didn’t mean she was going to agree.

Hades jaw was tight. He seemed to be restraining himself. Maybe he wasn’t used to being ordered around. When he lifted his head and stared down at her, she knew she was in trouble.

“Create life in the Underworld,” he said at last.

“What?” She hadn’t been prepared for that, though she probably should have been. Wasn’t her greatest weakness her lack of power? An irony considering her Divinity.

“Create life in the Underworld,” he said again. “You have six months—and if you fail or refuse, then you will become a permanent resident of the Underworld.”

“You want me to grow a garden in your realm?” she asked, shocked.

He shrugged. “I suppose that is one way to create life.”

She glared at him. “If you steal me away to the Underworld, you will face my mother’s wrath.”

“Oh, I am sure,” he mused. “Much like you will feel her wrath when she discovers what you’ve so recklessly done.”

Persephone’s cheeks flushed. He was right. The difference between them was that Hades didn’t seem at all fazed by the threat. Why should he be? He was one of the three—the most powerful gods in existence. A threat from Demeter was a pebble thrown.

She straightened, raising her chin and meeting his gaze head on. “Fine.”

Then she felt the pressure of Hades hand on her wrist like a shackle and tore her hand free.

“When do I start?”

Hades eyes glittered. “Come tomorrow. I’ll show you the way to the Underworld.”

“It will have to be after class,” she said.

“Class?”

“I’m a student New Athens University.”

Hades looked at her curiously and nodded his head. “After...class, then.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. As much as she hated him right now, it was hard not to enjoy the sight of him.

“What about your bouncer?”

“What about him?”

“I’d prefer he not remember me in this form,” she said, indicating to her horns. Then she called up her glamour. It relaxed her a little, to be in her mortal form. Hades watched the transformation as if he were studying the form of an ancient sculpture.

“I’ll erase his memory of you...after he is punished for his treatment of you.”

Persephone shivered. “He did not know I was a goddess.”

“But he knew you were a woman and he let his anger get the best of him,” Hades said. “So he will be punished.”

Hades said it matter-of-fact, and she knew there was no arguing.

“What will it cost me?” she asked because she knew who she was dealing with, and she had just requested a favor from the God of the Dead.

His lips twitch.

“Clever, darling. You know how this works. The punishment? Nothing. His memory? A favor.”

“Don’t call me darling,” she snapped. “What kind of favor?”

“Whatever I want,” he said. “To be used at a future time.”

She considered this for a moment. What would Hades want from her? What could she possibly have to offer him? Maybe it was that thought that made her agree, or the fear that her mother would discover she’d showed her true form. Either way, she said, “Deal.”

Hades smiled.

“I will have my driver take you home,” he said.

“That’s not necessary.”

“It is.”

She pressed her lips together. “Fine,” She gritted out. She didn’t really feel like taking the bus again, but the idea that Hades would know where she lived was unsettling.

Then the god clasped her shoulders, leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead. The move was so sudden, she lost her balance. Her fingers tangled into his shirt to steady herself, nails grazing the skin of his chest. His body was hard and warm and his lips were soft on her skin. When he pulled away, she couldn’t gather herself enough to be angry.

“What was that for?” she asked, her voice a quiet whisper.

Hades maintained that infuriating smirk, like he knew she couldn’t think straight, and brushed a finger across her heated cheek.

“For your benefit. Next time, the door will open for you. I’d rather you not piss Duncan off. If he hurts you again, I will have to kill him, and it’s hard to find a good ogre.”

Persephone could just imagine.

“Lord Hades, Thanatos is looking for you—oh—”

A woman entered his office from a hidden door behind his desk. She was beautiful. Her hair was parted in the center, and as red as flame. Her eyes were sharp and brows arched, lips full and lush and red. All her features were pointed and angled. She was a nymph and when she looked at Persephone, there was hatred in her eyes. It was then Persephone realized she was still standing close to Hades, her hands tangled in his shirt. When she tried to pull away, his hands tightened on her.

“I did not know you had company,” Minthe replied tightly.

Hades didn’t look at the woman. Instead, his eyes remained on Persephone. “A minute, Minthe.”

Persephone’s first thought was—so this is Minthe. She was beautiful in a way Persephone wasn’t—in a way that promised seduction and sin and she loathed the jealousy she felt.

Her second thought was why did he need a minute? What more could he have to say? Persephone didn’t see Minthe leave because she couldn’t force her gaze away from Hades.

“You haven’t answered my question,” Hades said. “Why are you using your mother’s magic?”

It was her turn to smile. “Lord Hades,” she said, drawing a finger down his chest. She wasn’t sure what made her do it, but she was feeling brave. “The only way you are getting answers from me is if I decide to enter into another gamble with you and at the moment, it’s not likely.”

Then she took the lapels of his jacket, and straightened it, her eyes falling to the red polyanthus flower in the pocket of his suit jacket. She looked up at him, and whispered. “I think you will regret this, Hades.”

She touched the flower and Hades eyes followed the movement. When her fingers brushed the petals, the flower wilted.





CHAPTER V – INTRUSION



Hades’ driver was a cyclops.

She tried not to look so surprised when she saw the creature standing in front of a black Lexus outside Nevernight. He was not like the cyclops depicted in history. They had been beastly creatures. This man was taller than Hades and all legs, with broad shoulders and a thin build. His eye was hooded but kind and he smiled when he saw Persephone.

Hades had insisted on escorting Persephone outside. She was not eager to be seen in public with the god, though she wasn’t so sure that thought had crossed Hades’ mind. He was probably more concerned about getting her off his premises as soon as possible so he could get some rest…or whatever he’d been about to do before she interrupted.

“Lady Persephone, this is Antoni,” Hades said. “He will ensure you make it home safe.”

Persephone raised a brow at the God of the Underworld. “Am I in danger, my lord?”

“Just a precaution. I wouldn’t want your mother banging down my door before she has a reason to.”

She has a reason to now, she thought angrily, and the mark on her wrist felt hot. She met his stare, intending to glare and communicate her anger, but she found it difficult to think at all. The God of the Dead had eyes like the universe—vibrant, alive, vast. She was lost in them and all they promised.

She was thankful when Antoni distracted her from those dangerous thoughts. Nothing good would come out of finding Hades interesting. Hadn’t she learned that already?

“My lady,” Antoni said, opening the rear car door.

“My lord.” She nodded to Hades as she twisted from him and slid into the black leather interior.

Antoni shut her door carefully and then folded himself into the driver’s seat of the car. They were on the road quickly, and it took everything in her power not to look back. She wondered how long Hades stood there before returning to his tower—if he was laughing at her boldness and her failure.

She stared down at the flashy gold bracelet that covered the black mark. In this light the gold looked brassy and cheap. She pulled it off and examined the markings on her skin. The only thing she could think to be thankful for at this moment was that the mark was small enough and in a place where it could be easily hidden.

Create life in the Underworld.

Was there even life in the Underworld? Persephone knew nothing about Hades’ realm, and in all her studies, she had never found descriptions of the land of the dead, just details of its geography, and even those seemed to conflict. She supposed she would find out tomorrow, though, the idea of returning to Nevernight to make the descent into the Underworld filled her with anxiety.

She groaned. Just when everything seemed to be working out for her, too.

“Will you be returning to visit Lord Hades?” Antoni asked, glancing in the rearview mirror. The cyclops had a pleasant voice. It was warm and spiced.

“I’m afraid I will,” Persephone said absently.

“I hope you’ll find him pleasing. Our lord is often alone.”

Persephone found those words strange. “He doesn’t seem so alone to me.”

She thought of the jealous Minthe.

“Such is the case with the Divine, but I am afraid he trusts very few. If you ask me, he needs a wife.”

Persephone blushed.

“I am certain Lord Hades isn’t interested in settling down.”

“You’d be surprised by what the God of the Dead is interested in,” Antoni replied.

Persephone didn’t want to know Hades’ interests. She already felt like she knew too many and none of them were good.

Persephone watched the cyclops from her seat in the back. She wondered how the monster came to be in the service of the God of the Underworld, so she asked.

“My kind were freed from Tartarus by the three after we were placed there by Cronos,” he replied. “And so we have repaid the favor by serving Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades from time to time.”

“As a driver?” she didn’t mean to sound so repulsed, but this seemed a menial task.

Antoni laughed. “Yes, but our kind are great builders and blacksmiths, too. We have crafted gifts for the three, and shall continue.”

“But that was so long ago. Surely you have repaid their favor?” Persephone asked.

“When the God of the Dead gives you life, it is a favor that will never be repaid.”

Persephone frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“You have never been to Tartarus, so I don’t expect that you will,” he paused and added. “Do not misunderstand. My service to Hades is my choice, and of all the gods, I am glad to serve him. He is not like the other Divine.”

Persephone really wanted to know what that meant, because from what she knew about Hades, he was the worst of the Divine.

Antoni arrived outside her apartment and squeezed out of the driver’s seat to open her door.

“Oh, you don’t have to—I can open my own door,” she said.

He smiled. “It is my pleasure, Lady Persephone.”

She started to ask that he not call her that, but then realized he was using her title, as if he knew she were a goddess, yet she wore her glamour.

“How did you—”

“Lord Hades called you Lady Persephone,” he explained. “So I will, too.”

“Please...it is not necessary.”

His smiled widened. “I think you should get used to it, Lady Persephone, especially if you visit us often, as I hope you will.”

He shut the door and bowed his head. Persephone wandered into her apartment in a daze. This day had been long and bizarre thanks to the God of the Dead.

There was no reprieve from it, either, because Lexa stood in the kitchen when Persephone came inside and pounced.

“Uh, whose Lexus dropped you off in front of our lame apartment?” she asked.

She wanted to lie and claim that someone from her internship had dropped her off, but she knew Lexa wouldn’t believe that—she was supposed to be home two hours ago, and her best friend had just watched as she’d literally be chauffeured to their home.

“Well...you’re never going to believe this but….Hades.”

While she could admit to that, she wasn’t ready to tell Lexa about the contract or the mark on her wrist.

Lexa dropped the mug she was holding. Persephone flinched as it hit the floor and shattered.

“Are you kidding?”

Persephone shook her head. As she moved to grab a broom, Lexa followed.

“Like...the Hades? God of the Dead Hades? Owner of Nevernight Hades?”

“Yes, Lexa. Who else?” Persephone asked, irritated.

“How?” she sputtered. “Why?

Persephone started sweeping up the ceramic pieces.

“It was for my job,” It wasn’t technically a lie. She could call it research.

“And you met Hades? You saw him in the flesh?”

Persephone shivered at the word flesh, recalling Hades’ haphazard appearance. “Yeah.”

“What does he look like?” Persephone turned away from Lexa and grabbed the dustpan. She was also trying to hide the furious blush staining her cheeks. “Details. Spill!”

Persephone handed Lexa the dustpan and she held it as Persephone swept up the shattered mug. “I...don’t know where to begin,” Persephone said at last.

Lexa smiled. “Start with his eyes,” she said.

Persephone sighed. It felt intimate to describe Hades and part of her wanted to keep him all to herself. She was well-aware she was only describing a toned-down version of the god because she had yet to see him in his true form. There was a strange anticipation that followed that thought, and she realized she was eager to know the God in his Divinity. Would his horns be as black as his eyes and his hair? Would they curl on either side of his head like a rams, or reach into the air, making him even taller?

“He’s handsome,” she said, though even that word didn’t do him justice. It wasn’t just his looks, it was his presence. “He’s…power.”

“Someone has a crush.” The smug smirk on Lexa’s face reminded Persephone that she was too focused on what the god looked like and not enough on what he did.

“What? No. No. Look, Hades is handsome. I’m not blind, but I cannot condone what he does.”

“What do you mean?”

Persephone reminded Lexa of what they’d learned from Adonis at Nevernight.

“Well, you could ask Hades about it.”

“We’re not friends, Lexa.”

They would never be friends.

Then Lexa got really excited. “Oh! What if you wrote about him? You could investigate his bargains with mortals! How scandalous!”

It was scandalous—not only because of the content, but because Persephone was considering writing an article about a god, something very few people did for fear of retaliation.

But Persephone wasn’t afraid of retaliation because she didn’t care that Hades was a god.

“Looks like you have another reason to visit Hades,” Lexa said.

It looked like she did, and hadn’t Hades offered her easy access? When he’d pressed his lips to her forehead, he’d said it was for her benefit. She wouldn’t have to knock to enter Nevernight again.

She smiled.

The God of the Underworld would definitely regret meeting the Goddess of Spring—and she looked forward to that day. She was Divine, too. Though she had no power of her own, she could write, and maybe that made her the perfect person to expose him. After all, if anything happened to her, Hades would feel Demeter’s wrath.

***

On her way to class at New Athens University, Persephone stopped to purchase an assortment of bangles. Since she would have to wear Hades’ mark until she fulfilled their contract, she wanted to accessorize her outfits accordingly. Today she wore a stack of pearls, a classic touch to compliment her bright pink skirt and white button up.

Her heels clicked against the concrete sidewalk as the university came into view. Each step meant time was passing, which meant an hour, a minute, a second closer to her return to Nevernight.

Today Hades would take her to the Underworld. She’d stayed up into the night considering how she was to fulfill their contract. She’d asked if he’d wanted her to plant a garden, and he’d shrugged—shrugged—that is one way, he’d said. What was that supposed to mean, and what other ways could she possibly create life? Isn’t that why he’d chosen this challenge? Because she had no power to fulfill the task?

She doubted it was because the Lord Hades wanted beautiful gardens in his desolate realm. He was interested in punishment, after all, and from what she’d heard and witnessed from the god, he did not intend the Underworld to be a place for peace and pretty flowers.

Despite how angry she was with herself and Hades, her emotions were at odds. She was both intrigued and nervous to descend into the god’s realm.

Mostly, though, she was afraid.

What if she failed?

No, she closed her eyes against the thought. She couldn’t fail. She wouldn’t. She would see the Underworld tonight and make a plan. Just because she could not coax a bloom from the ground with magic did not mean she couldn’t use other methods. Mortal methods. She would just have to be careful. She would need gloves—it was that or kill every plant she touched and while the garden ruminated, she would look for other ways to fulfill the contract.

Or break it.

She did not know much about Hades except what her mother and mortals believed about the god. He was private, he did not like intrusions, and he did not like the media.

He was really going to dislike what she had planned for today, and suddenly she had the thought—could she make Hades mad enough that he would release her from this contract?

Persephone passed through the entrance of New Athens University. It was a set of six columns crowned with a piece of pointed stone. Once inside, Persephone found herself in a courtyard. The Library of Artemis rose in front of her, a pantheon-style building that she had taken pleasure in exploring her Freshman year.

Campus was easy to navigate, as it was laid out like a seven-point star—the library being one of the seven points.

Persephone always cut through the center of the star which was the Garden of the Gods, an acre of land full of the favored flowers of the Olympians and marble statues. Though Persephone had walked this path many times to class, today felt different. The garden was like an oppressor, the flowers, enemies, their smells mixing in the air—the thick scent of honeysuckle mingled with the sweet smell of the rose—accosted her senses.

Did Hades expect her to grow something this grand? Would he really sentence her to life in the Underworld if she failed to deliver his request in six months?

She knew the answer. Hades was a strict god. He believed in rules and boundaries, and he’d set them yesterday, not even fearing the threat of her mother’s wrath.

Persephone passed Poseidon's pool, and a towering statue of a very naked Ares with his helm atop his head and shield in hand. It wasn’t the only statue of a naked god in the garden. Normally she gave it little thought, but today her gaze was drawn to the large horns atop Ares’ head. Her own felt heavy under the glamour she wore. She’d heard a rumor when she moved to New Athens that horns were the source of the Divine’s power. Persephone wished that were true. It wasn’t even about having power now. It was about freedom.

“It’s just that the Fates have chosen a different path for you, my flower.” Demeter had said when Persephone’s magic never manifested.

“What path?” Persephone asked. “There is no path, only the walls of your glass prison! Do you keep me hidden away because you are ashamed?”

“I keep you safe because you have no power, my flower. There is a difference.”

Persephone still wasn’t sure what sort of path the Fates had decided for her, but she knew she could be safe without being imprisoned, and she guessed at some point, Demeter had agreed, because she’d let Persephone ago—albeit, on a long leash.

“Mother,” she said.

Demeter appeared beside her daughter. She wore a human glamour. It was not something she often did. It wasn’t that Demeter disliked mortals—she was incredibly protective of her followers—she merely knew her status as a goddess. Demeter’s mortal mask was not so different from her Divine appearance. She kept the same smooth hair, the same bright green eyes, the same luminous skin, but her antlers were veiled. She chose a fitted emerald dress and gold heels. To onlookers, she had all the appearances of a sharp businesswoman.

“What are you doing here?” Persephone asked.

“Where were you yesterday?” Demeter’s voice was curt.

“It sounds like you already think you know the answer,” she replied. “So why don’t you tell me?”

“Do not treat this with sarcasm, my dear. This is very serious—why were you at Nevernight?”

Persephone tried to keep her heart from racing.

“How do you know I was at Nevernight?”

Did a nymph see her?

“Never mind how I knew. I asked you a question.”

“I went for work, mother. I must return today, too.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Need I remind you a condition of your time here was that you stay away from the gods. Especially Hades.”

She said his name like a curse and Persephone flinched.

“Mother, I have to do this. It’s my job.”

“Then you will quit.”

“No.”

Demeter looked stunned, and Persephone was sure that in all her twenty-four years she’d never told her mother no.

“What did you say?”

“I like my life, mother. I’ve worked hard to get where I am.”

“Persephone, you do not need to live this mortal life. It is...changing you.”

“Good. That’s what I want. I want to be me, whatever that is and you are going to have to accept that.”

Demeter’s face was stone cold, and Persephone knew what she was thinking—I do not have to accept anything but what I want.

“I have heeded your warnings about the gods, especially Hades. What are you afraid of? That I will allow him to seduce me? Have more faith in me.”

Demeter paled and hissed, “This is serious, Persephone.”

“I am being serious, mother.” She checked her watch. “I have go. I will be late for class.”

Persephone sidestepped her mother and left the garden. She could feel Demeter’s gaze burning her back as she went.

She would regret standing up for herself, she was sure of it.

Question was, what punishment would the Goddess of Harvest choose?

***

Class went by in a blur of furious notes and droning lectures. Normally Persephone was attentive, but she had a lot on her mind. Her conversation with her mother was gnawing away at her insides. Though Persephone was proud she stood up for herself, she knew Demeter could whisk her away with a snap of her fingers, back to the glass greenhouse. She was also thinking about her conversation with Lexa, and how she could start research for her article. She knew an interview would be essential, but she wasn’t eager to be in an enclosed space with him again.

She was still feeling off at lunch, and Lexa noticed.

“What’s wrong?”

She considered how to tell her friend her mother was spying