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Neon Gods: Chapter 3


The woman doesn’t belong on my side of the River Styx. That alone should be enough to make me turn away, but I can’t help but notice her limping sprint. The fact that she’s barefoot without a fucking coat in the middle of January. The plea in her eyes.

Not to mention the two men chasing her down, trying to get to her before she reaches this side. They don’t want her to cross the bridge, which tells me all I need to know—they owe allegiance to one of the Thirteen. Normal citizens of Olympus avoid crossing the river, preferring to stick to their respective sides of the River Styx without fully understanding what makes them turn back when they reach one of the three bridges, but these two are acting like they realize she’ll be out of their reach once she touches this bank.

I motion with my hand. “Faster.”

She glances behind her, and panic sounds from her body as loudly as if she’d screamed. She’s more afraid of them than she is of me, which might be a revelation if I stopped to think about it too hard. She’s almost to me, a few short yards away.

That’s when I realize I recognize her. I’ve seen those big hazel eyes and that pretty face plastered on all the gossip sites that love following the Thirteen and their circles of friends and family. This woman is Demeter’s second daughter, Persephone.

What is she doing here?

“Please,” she gasps again.

There’s nowhere for her to run. They’re on one side of the bridge. I’m on the other. She must be truly desperate to make the crossing, to push past those invisible barriers and throw her safety in with a man like me. “Run,” I say. The treaty keeps me from being able to go to her, but once she reaches me—

Behind her, the men pick up their pace, fully sprinting in an effort to get to her before she gets to me. She’s slowed down, her steps closer to hobbling, indicating that she’s injured in some way. Or maybe it’s purely exhaustion. Still, she stumbles on, determined.

I count the distance as she covers it. Twenty feet. Fifteen. Ten. Five.

The men are close. So fucking close. But rules are rules, and not even I can break them. She has to make it to the bank of her own power. I look past her at them, an ugly recognition rolling through me. I know these men; I have files on them that stretch back years. They are two enforcers who work behind the scenes for Zeus, taking care of tasks he’d rather his worshipping public not know he engages in.

The fact that they’re here, chasing her, means something big is happening. Zeus likes to play with his prey, but surely he wouldn’t try that game with one of Demeter’s daughters? It doesn’t matter. She’s almost out of his territory…and into mine.

And then, miraculously, she makes it.

I catch Persephone around the waist the second she hits this side of the bridge, spin her and pin her back to my chest. She feels even smaller in my arms, even more breakable, and a slow anger rises in me at the way she shivers. These fuckers have chased her for some time, terrorizing her at his command. No doubt it’s a punishment of sorts; Zeus always did like driving people to the River Styx, letting their fear build with each block they passed until they were trapped on the banks of the river. Persephone is one of the few to actually attempt one of the bridges. It speaks to an inner strength to attempt the crossing without an invitation, let alone to succeed. I respect that.

But we all have our roles to play tonight, and even if I don’t plan to harm this woman, the reality is that she’s a trump card that’s fallen right into my hands. It’s an opportunity I won’t pass up. “Hold still,” I murmur.

She freezes except for her gasping inhales and exhales. “Who—”

“Not now.” I do my best to ignore her shivering for the moment and bracket her throat with a hand, waiting for these two to catch up. I’m not hurting her, but I exert the slightest bit of pressure to keep her in place—to make it look convincing. She stills against me. I’m not sure if it’s instinctive trust or fear or exhaustion, but it doesn’t matter.

The men stumble to a stop, unwilling and unable to cross the remaining distance between us. I’m on the bank of the lower city. I haven’t broken any laws and they know it. The one on the right glares. “That’s Zeus’s woman you have there.”

Persephone goes rigid in my arms, but I ignore it. I draw on my rage, injecting it into my voice in icy tones. “Then he shouldn’t have let his little pet wander so far from safety.”

“You’re making a mistake. A big mistake.”

Wrong. This isn’t a mistake. It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting thirty fucking years to find. A chance to strike right to the heart of Zeus in his shining empire. To take someone important to him the same way he took the two most important people to me when I was a child. “She’s in my territory now. You’re welcome to try to steal her back, but the consequences for breaking the treaty will be on your head.”

They’re smart enough to know what that means. No matter how much Zeus wants this woman returned to him, even he can’t break this treaty without bringing the rest of the Thirteen down on his head. They exchange a look. “He’s going to kill you.”

“He’s welcome to try.” I stare them down. “She’s mine now. Be sure to tell Zeus how much I intend to enjoy his unexpected gift.” I move then, throwing Persephone over my shoulder and striding down the street, deeper into my territory. Whatever held her paralyzed up to this point shatters and she struggles, beating my back with her fists.

“Put me down.”


“Let me go.”

I ignore her and stalk around the corner, moving quickly. Once we’re out of sight of the bridge, I set her on her feet. The woman tries to take a swing at me, which might amuse me under other circumstances. She’s got more fight in her than I expected from one of Demeter’s socialite daughters. I had planned on letting her walk on her own, but lingering out in the night after that confrontation is a mistake. She’s not dressed for it, and there’s always the chance that Zeus has spies in my territory who will report this interaction back to him.

After all, I have spies in his territory.

I shrug out of my coat and shove her into it, zipping it up before she has a chance to fight me, trapping her arms at her sides. She curses, but I’m already moving again, lifting her back over my shoulder. “Be quiet.”

“The fuck I will.”

My patience, already whisper thin, nearly snaps. “You’re half-frozen and limping. Shut up and be still until we get inside.”

She doesn’t stop muttering under her breath, but she does stop struggling. It’s enough. Getting away from the river is the first priority right now. I doubt Zeus’s men will be foolish enough to attempt to finish the crossing, but tonight’s already brought the unexpected. I know better than to take anything for granted.

The buildings this close to the river are intentionally run-down and empty. All the better to preserve the narrative the upper city likes to tell itself about my side of the river. If those glittering assholes think there’s nothing of value down here, they leave me and my people alone. The treaty only lasts as long as the Thirteen are in agreement. If they ever decide to band together to take the lower city, it means the worst kind of trouble. Better to avoid it altogether.

A great plan up until tonight. I’ve kicked the hornet’s nest and there’s no unkicking it. The woman over my shoulder will either be the tool I use to finally bring Zeus down, or she’ll be my ruin.

Cheery thoughts.

I barely reach the end of the block before two shadows peel off from the buildings on either side of the street and fall into step a few feet behind me. Minthe and Charon. I’ve long since gotten used to the fact that my nightly wanderings are never truly solo. Even when I was a kid, no one ever tried to stop me. They just made sure I didn’t get into any trouble I couldn’t get out of again. When I finally took over the lower city and my guardian stepped down, he handed over control on everything except this.

A softer person would assume my people do it out of care. Maybe that’s part of it. But at the end of the day, if I die now without an heir, the carefully curated balance of Olympus teeters and crumbles. The fools in the upper city don’t even realize how vital a cog I am to their machine. Unspoken, unacknowledged…but I prefer it that way.

Nothing good comes when the other Thirteen turn their golden eyes this way.

I cut through an alley and then another. There are parts of the lower city that look like the rest of Olympus, but this isn’t one of them. The alleys stink to high heaven and glass crunches under my shoes with each step. Someone who only saw the surface would miss the carefully concealed cameras arranged to take in the space from all angles.

No one approaches my home without my people knowing about it. Not even me, though I’ve long since learned a few tricks for when I need actual alone time. I turn left and stride to a nondescript door tucked into an equally nondescript brick wall. A quick glance at the tiny camera angled at the top of the door and the lock clicks open beneath my hand. I shut the door softly behind me. Minthe and Charon will sweep the area and double back to ensure the two almost intruders don’t get any foolish ideas.

“We’re inside now. Put me down.” Persephone’s voice is as frigid as any princess at court.

I start down the narrow staircase. “No.” It’s dark, the only light coming from faint runners on the floor. The air goes breathtakingly cold as I reach the end of the stairs. We’re fully underground now, and we don’t bother with climate control in the tunnels. They’re here for easy traveling or a last-minute escape route. They’re not here for comfort. She shivers over my shoulder, and I’m glad I took the time to throw the coat on her. I won’t be able to see her injuries until we’re back in my home, and the quicker that happens, the better for everyone.

“Put. Me. Down.”

“No,” I repeat. I’m not about to waste my breath explaining that she’s running on sheer adrenaline right now, which means she’s not feeling any pain. And she will be feeling pain once those endorphins wear off. Her feet are fucked up. I don’t think she has hypothermia, but I have no idea how long she was exposed to the winter night in that sad excuse of a dress.

“Do you often kidnap people?”

I pick up my pace. Gone is the spiky fury, replaced by a calm that has concern rising. She might be going into shock, which will be damned inconvenient. I have a doctor on call, but the fewer people who know Persephone Dimitriou is in my possession right now, the better. At least until I figure out a plan to use this unexpected gift.

“Did you hear me?” She shifts a little. “I asked if you often kidnap people.”

“Be quiet. We’re almost there.”

“That’s not really an answer.” I get a few seconds of blessed silence before she keeps talking. “Then again, I’ve never been kidnapped before, so I suppose expecting an answer about your kidnapper’s prior experience is just silly.”

She sounds downright chipper. She’s definitely in shock. Continuing this line of conversation is a mistake, but I find myself saying, “You ran to me. That’s hardly kidnapping.”

“Did I? I was just running to get away from the two men pursuing me. Your being there or not is immaterial.”

She can say that all she likes, but I saw the way she zeroed in on me. She wanted my help. Needed it. And I had been unable to deny her. “You practically threw yourself into my arms.”

“I was being chased. You seemed the lesser of two evils.” The tiniest of pauses. “I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

I wind my way through the maze of tunnels to another set of stairs. This one is nearly identical to the ones I just descended, right down to the pale runners on each stair. I take them two at a time, ignoring her faint oof in response to my shoulder jarring her stomach. Once again, the door clicks open the second I touch it, unlocked by whoever is on shift in the security room. I slow down enough to ensure the door is properly closed behind me.

Persephone twists a little on my shoulder. “A wine cellar. I don’t think I saw this coming.”

“Is there a part of tonight that you did see coming?” I curse myself for asking the question, but she’s acting so strangely unflappable that I’m genuinely curious. More than that, if she’s actually verging into hypothermia, keeping her talking right now is the wise course of action.

At that, her strangely cheerful tone fades down to almost a whisper. “No. I didn’t see any of it coming.”

Guilt pricks me, but I ignore it with the ease of long practice. One last set of stairs out of the wine cellar and I stop in the back hallway of my home. After a quick internal debate, I head for the kitchen. There are first aid supplies tucked in a number of rooms around the building, but the two largest kits are in the kitchen and in my bedroom. The kitchen is closer.

I push open the door and stop short. “What are you two doing here?”

Hermes freezes, two bottles of my best wine in her small hands. She gives me a winning grin that isn’t the least bit sober. “There was a snore-fest of a party in Dodona Tower. We cut out early.”

Dionysus has his head in my fridge, which is enough to tell me that he’s already drunk or high—or some combination of both. “You have the best snacks,” he says without pausing in his raiding of my food.

“Now’s not a good time.”

Hermes blinks behind her oversize yellow-framed glasses. “Uh, Hades.”

The woman over my shoulder jolts as if struck by a live wire. “Hades?

Hermes blinks again and shoves back her cloud of black curls with one forearm. “Am I really, really drunk, or is that Persephone Dimitriou thrown over your shoulder like you’re about to role-play some sexy pillaging?”

“That’s impossible.” Dionysus finally appears with the pie my housekeeper left in the fridge earlier today. He’s eating it directly from the container. At least he’s using a fork this time. He also has some crumbles in his beard and only one side of his mustache is curled; the other is only a little crimped, as if he’s scrubbed a hand over his face recently. He frowns at me. “Okay, maybe not impossible. Either that or the weed I smoked with Helen in the courtyard before leaving was laced with something.”

Even if they hadn’t told me they’d come directly from a party, their clothing says it all. Hermes is wearing a short dress that would double as a disco ball, reflecting little sparkles against her dark-brown skin. Dionysus probably started the night with a suit, but he’s down to a white V-neck and there is a ball of wadded-up cloth on my kitchen island that’s no doubt his jacket and shirt.

Over my shoulder, Persephone has gone stock-still. I’m not even sure she’s breathing. The temptation arises to turn around and walk away, but I know from past experience that these two will just follow along and pepper me with questions until I give in to frustration and snap at them.

Better to rip off the Band-Aid now.

I set Persephone on the counter and keep a hand on her shoulder to prevent her from taking a nosedive. She blinks big hazel eyes up at me, little shivers racking her body. “She called you Hades.”

“It’s my name.” I pause. “Persephone.”

Hermes laughs and sets the wine bottles on the counter with a clink. She points at herself. “Hermes.” She points at him. “Dionysus.” Another laugh. “Though you already knew that.” She leans against my shoulder and whisper-yells, “She’s going to marry Zeus.”

I turn slowly to look at Hermes. “What?” I knew she had to be important to Zeus in order for him to send his men after her, but marriage? That means I have my hands on the shoulders of the next Hera.

“Yep.” Hermes works the cork out of one of the bottles and takes a long drink directly from it. “They announced it tonight. You just stole the fiancée of the most powerful man in Olympus. It’s a good thing they aren’t married yet, or you would have kidnapped one of the Thirteen.” She giggles. “That is positively devious, Hades. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“I knew he did.” Dionysus tries to eat another bite of pie but has a bit of trouble finding his mouth, getting the fork tangled in his beard instead. He blinks down at the utensil as if it’s the one to blame. “He’s the boogeyman, after all. You don’t get that kind of reputation without being a tiny bit devious.”

“That’s about enough of that.” I dig my phone out of my pocket. I need to see to Persephone, but I can’t do that while fielding dozens of questions from these two.

“Hades!” Hermes whines. “Don’t kick us out. We just got here.”

“I didn’t invite you.” Not that that’s stopped them from crossing the river whenever they feel like it. Part of that is Hermes—she can go where she pleases, when she pleases by virtue of her position. Dionysus technically has a standing invitation, but it was only meant to be for business purposes.

“You never invite us.” She pouts red lips that she’s somehow managed not to smudge. “It’s enough to make a person think you don’t like us.”

I give her the look that statement deserves and dial Charon. He should be back by now. Sure enough, he answers quickly. “Yeah?”

“Hermes and Dionysus are here. Send someone to take them to their rooms.” I could toss them in a car and send them home, but with these two, there’s no guarantee that they won’t get a wild hair and come right back—or make even more questionable decisions. Last time I sent them home like this, they ended up ditching my driver and trying to take a drunken swim in the River Styx. At least if they’re under my roof, I can keep an eye on them until they sober up.

I am aware of Persephone staring at me like I’ve sprouted horns, but getting this pair of idiots taken care of is the first priority. Two of my people arrive and usher them out, but only after a strained negotiation that has them taking the pie and wine with them.

I sigh the moment the door closes behind them. “Those are thousand-dollar bottles of wine. She’s drunk enough that she’s not even going to taste it.”

Persephone makes a strange hiccupping sound, which is my only warning before she shoves my coat off—having unzipped it while I was distracted—and makes a run for it. I’m surprised enough that I stand there and watch her try to hobble for the door. And she is hobbling.

A glimpse of red streaking the floor in her wake is enough to snap me out of it. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“You can’t keep me here!”

I snag her around the waist and carry her back to the kitchen island to drop her on it. “You’re acting like a fool.”

Big hazel eyes glare at me. “You kidnapped me. Trying to escape you is the smart thing to do.”

I grab her ankle and lift her foot to get a good look at it. It’s only when Persephone scrambles to hold her dress in place that I realize I probably could have gone about this in a different way. Oh well. I carefully touch her sole and show her my finger. “You’re bleeding.” There are several large gashes, but I can’t tell if they’re deep enough to need stitches.

“Then let me go to the hospital and I’ll get it taken care of.”

She’s nothing if not persistent. I tighten my grip on her ankle. She’s still shivering. Damn it, I don’t have time for this argument. “Let’s say I do that.”

“Then do it.”

“Do you think you’ll get ten feet inside a hospital without the staff calling your mother?” I hold her gaze. “Without them calling your…fiancé?”

She flinches. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Like I said—you’re being foolish.” I shake my head. “Now hold still while I check for glass.”


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