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Neon Gods: Chapter 15

Hades

There’s nothing I want more than to carry Persephone up to my room and finish what we’ve started. Even though I should know better by now, she surprised me again. I want to keep learning her, to find every single fantasy she has so I can make her come over and over again.

Unfortunately, the night is far from over. We’ve had our fun. Now it’s time for politics.

I can’t help pressing a kiss to her temple. “The show’s almost over.”

“At least one of them already is.” She nuzzles my chest like a cat seeking pets. It makes my heart give an uncomfortable thud. She’s closed her eyes and cuddled into me like I’m her favorite blanket. It’s…cute.

“Persephone.” I put just enough bite into my tone to get her to look at me. “We have to play court, at least for a little while. That’s what tonight is all about.” Except it was all too easy to forget that once I got inside her. The room faded away until all I could see was her.

Her brows draw together and she sighs. “I knew it was too much to ask to just keep fucking until dawn.”

I have to fight down a smile. “I think we can spare the time this will take.”

“Uh-huh.” She fiddles with one of the buttons of my shirt and gives me a sly look. “I don’t suppose you’ll make it up to me later?”

“You’re impossible.”

“You’re the only one who seems to bring out that side of me.”

I like that, in a perverse sort of way. Persephone might get under my skin like no one I’ve ever met but I enjoy our bantering more than I have a right to. I enjoy a lot of things about Persephone. I’m saved from having to come up with a response by the lights coming up a bit and a white man approaching. He’s breathtakingly beautiful, his features so perfect it almost hurts to look at him. Square jaw, sensual lips, a wild riot of curly blond hair on his head. He looks too pretty to take seriously, but he’s Aphrodite’s son. I know for a fact that he handles unsavory tasks for her so she can keep her hands pristine. He’s dangerous in the extreme.

I tap a finger against Persephone’s hip and lean back. “Eros.”

He grins, teeth white and straight. “Thank you for the show.” His gaze slides to Persephone. “You’ve pissed off a lot of people in the upper city.”

She shifts in my lap. I wait for her to blush, to stammer, to do something to signal her regret for letting things go so far in front of others. She’s never done anything like we just did; having sex in front of an audience is a big fucking deal to a sheltered princess like Persephone. I start to verbally step in to save her.

She surprises me yet again. Her voice goes sickly sweet and coated in poison. “Funny, but a lot of people in the upper city have pissed me off.”

His grin doesn’t falter, though his blue eyes are cold. “Zeus is furious, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep him happy.”

“I have no interest in keeping Zeus happy.” She gives her sunshine smile. “Do be a dear and give Aphrodite my regards. She’s been managing Zeus this long. I’m sure she’s more than capable of managing him a bit longer.”

That kills Eros’s smile. He looks down at her like he’s never seen her before. I can understand the sentiment. He whistles softly. “Looks like someone underestimated Demeter’s perfect daughter.”

Persephone’s voice gains a hard edge. “Be sure and tell them that, too, when you deliver your report for tonight.”

Eros holds up his hands, his easy grin returning. It’s a mask, but nowhere near as good as Persephone’s. “Tonight, I’m just here to enjoy myself.”

Tonight. It’s the barest of reassurances. I hold his gaze. “Then enjoy yourself…tonight. But remember whose hospitality you’re currently benefiting from.”

He tips an imaginary hat to me and moves away. A couple on a couch on the other side of the dais wave at him, and he joins them. Within a few seconds, they’re stripping him to participate in the fun. I look down to find Persephone watching with a frown. She nibbles her bottom lip. “You know he’s here as a spy.”

“Better than him being here to act out Aphrodite’s vengeance.” Something he’s rumored to do on the regular.

She looks around the room, and I can practically see her mind whirling as she’s finally able to make out the faces of the crowd. “There are a lot more people from the upper city here than I expected. People who attend the same parties I used to.”

“Yes.” I wind a strand of her blond hair around my fingers, waiting for her to work through whatever she’s chewing on.

“They knew you were here. Why are you only a rumor if all these people know you exist?”

I stroke my thumb over her hair. “That’s an easy question and a complicated answer. The simplified version is that Zeus has a vested interest in keeping me a myth.”

She looks at me. “Because it gives him more power. Poseidon mostly keeps to his territory around the docks and doesn’t have the patience for politicking. You’re the only other legacy title. Without you in the mix, there’s no one to stand in the way of Zeus playing king of all Olympus.”

Smart little siren.

“Yes.” All the other Thirteen answer to Zeus in their way. Not a single one of them can bring forth the power that one of the legacy titles can. Not even Demeter, with her control of the city’s food supply, or Ares with his small army of private contract soldiers.

When Persephone keeps frowning, I give her hair a gentle tug. “What else?”

“It’s just so…hypocritical. In the upper city, it’s all purity culture and pretending that they’re above such base human needs, putting value on denying themselves. Then they come down here and take advantage of your hospitality to play the kind of sex games that would get them exiled from their social circles and publicly shamed.” She looks around the room. “Though it’s not only sex games, is it? They come to the lower city for a number of things they don’t want others to know about.”

It doesn’t really surprise me that Persephone connects the dots so quickly, not when she’s already proven to have a sly mind behind that persona of pretty fluff. “If their sins happen in the dark, do they even count?”

Her expression is downright ferocious. “They use you and then they tuck you back into the shadows and pretend you’re a boogeyman. It’s not right.”

That strange pulse in my chest strengthens. I think I’m speechless. It’s the only explanation for me staring at her like I’ve never seen her before. That’s not only it, though. I’ve seen her fierce as fuck, but she’s never directed that in defense of me. It’s strange and novel and I don’t know what to do with it.

Thankfully, I’m saved from having to come up with a response by Hermes and Dionysus strolling up. Since the shows—official and unofficial—are finished, everyone around us are in various states of undress and beginning scenes. Not these two. They always show up, but Hermes is the only one who ever participates, if rarely. For Dionysus’s part, his vices don’t include sex of any flavor.

Dionysus points at a chair occupied by two women. “Move.”

They move, taking themselves a few feet away, and he drags the chair over to ours. “Nice party.”

“Glad you like it,” I say drily. He drops into the chair and Hermes perches on the arm of it. She runs her fingers through Dionysus’s hair absently, but her dark eyes are shrewd. I sigh. “Yes, Hermes?”

“You know I don’t like to tell you how to live your life.”

“When has that ever stopped you?” I feel Persephone tense like a coiled snake, and I smooth my hands down her body, tucking her more firmly against me—and banding an arm around her waist. I don’t think my little siren will physically attack someone, let alone one of the Thirteen, but I didn’t expect her to cut Eros down so efficiently, either. She’s full of surprises, which shouldn’t delight me nearly as much as it does.

Dionysus wraps an arm around Hermes’s waist and tilts his head so she has better access to keep up her absent stroking. No matter how relaxed he appears, he’s just as sober and shrewd as she is right now. “You’re poking the bear, my friend. Are you prepared for what happens next?”

It shouldn’t be possible that both Hermes and Dionysus are more dramatic when they’re sober than when they’re drunk. And yet here we are. “Not all of us make decisions on the fly.”

“You know, when we said you should loosen up, we didn’t exactly mean you should bang Zeus’s fiancée in front of fifty people who are frothing at the mouth to run back to the upper city and tell him what they’ve seen in explicit detail.” Hermes adjusts her glasses. “Not us, of course. We don’t indulge in spreading tales like that.”

I snort. “If there’s anyone in this room who believes that line, I have a nice oceanfront property in Ohio to sell them.”

“Hades.” She stops stroking Dionysus and sits up straight. “Was that a joke?” She points at Persephone. “What have you done to him? Three days and he’s cracking jokes. It’s weird and unnatural, and you both need to stop this immediately.”

Persephone huffs out a breath. “Maybe you’d know he has a dry sense of humor if you stopped talking long enough to let him get a word in edgewise.”

Hermes blinks slowly. “Um.”

“And for another thing, if you’re such good friends, maybe consider not running directly back to Zeus and tattling about everything you’ve seen here every time you visit. That kind of thing makes you a terrible friend, not a good one, no matter how many nights you end up drunkenly crashing at Hades’s house.”

Hermes does another slow blink. “Hades, I’m in love.”

“Down, girl.”

“That’s another joke.” She whoops and does a full body wiggle that forces Dionysus to move fast to keep her from toppling off the arm of the chair. “Oh my gods, I love her.” She straightens and grins at Persephone. “You are seriously a delight.”

Persephone turns to me. “I just yelled at her, and now she’s talking about how much she loves me. What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s just Hermes.” I shrug. “Carrying tales back and forth across the River Styx is part of her job. It’s why all these people are here.”

Persephone’s cheeks gain two bright spots of color. “Right. I forgot for a second.”

She forgot because she was so quick to rush to my defense. I don’t get it. She has nothing to gain from defending me. She came to me for protection, not the other way around. Once again, Dionysus saves me from having to come up with a suitable response.

He laughs. “You should see how pissed Zeus is. He’s playing it cool in public, but rumor has it that he destroyed an entire room when he found out where you’d gone. When he realizes that you’re riding Hades’s cock for everyone to see?” He shakes his head. “Nuclear doesn’t begin to cover it.”

Persephone goes tense, and I don’t have to see her face to know she’s thinking about her sisters. She might have conflicted feelings about her mother, but from everything she’s said and everything I’ve seen, the same cannot be said of the other Dimitriou sisters. If there’s one pressure point Zeus has available to him, it’s them. Fuck. I should have thought of that sooner. I can’t send my people to keep them safe without violating the treaty, and there’s no way Zeus will stand by if I allow them into my home. It’s a problem I don’t have a ready solution to, but I’ll figure it out.

I press a kiss to her temple. “Tired?”

“Is that a euphemism for do I want to get out of here and go up to your room?” She twists just enough for her lips to brush mine. “If so, then yes. If not, then be prepared for me to convince you otherwise.”

“I. Love. Her.” Hermes claps. “Hades, you have to keep her. She’s turning you human and you’re turning her interesting, and it’s been less than a week. Imagine how entertaining you’ll both be in a year or five.”

“Hermes.” I sink enough warning into my tone to shock anyone to their senses.

Naturally, she ignores me. “Though I suppose if you tempt Zeus into striking, then we’re looking at war, and that will put a damper on things.”

Persephone turns back to her. “Wait, war? If he breaks the treaty, the Thirteen will come after him. That’s how it works.”

“Correction, that’s how it’s supposed to work.” Hermes shrugs a shoulder. “The truth is that at least a third of them are Zeus’s little minions and are heavily invested in keeping the status quo. They’ll join with him to stomp Hades into oblivion if they think he’s going to rock the boat.”

“And the other two thirds?”

Another shrug. “Could go either way.”

The information isn’t exactly a surprise, though it’s one hell of a disappointment. If I’m the one to step out of line, all of them will unite to bring me down without hesitation. Hermes and Dionysus might feel bad about it, but they’ll fall in with the others when push comes to shove. Of course the same doesn’t apply when it comes to that piece of shit Zeus.

I gather Persephone in my arms and stand, ignoring her protests that she can walk. Carrying her right now isn’t about what she can and can’t do. It’s about what I want, about the small bit of comfort I’ll allow myself. I have to think, and I can’t do that here. Though I don’t know what I hope to accomplish. We’ve already laid out our plan and jumped into a free fall. There’s no going back now. No matter what the consequences are, we have to see this through to the end.

I just have to figure out how to ensure that I don’t get everyone I am responsible for killed in the process.


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