I follow Hades through the portal, spoiling for a fight. Cornered by Eros, my trust twisted again, the truth dragged out of me, Persephone shattered, and for what?
Hades is the only one who got what he wanted. Me, finally laid bare, the truth of the past chewed up and fed back to him in little pieces that he wouldn’t choke on. And his response is to show me his back, give me commands that he thinks I’ll obey because he’s a fucking King?
The only reason I’m following along in his wake is because, if things are going to go back to the way they used to be between us, there won’t just be a line between the King and I. There will be an abyss. I will make goddamn sure of that.
He glances over his shoulder at me, his eyes molten silver. Without a word, he marches up to the double front doors and flings them open, crossing the foyer to the stairs.
I grit my teeth because I have to do what he told me to – follow him – for the simple fact that he’s in front of me. Crossing the threshold, I gesture back toward the doors. With a flick of my wrist, they slam shut behind me, plunging us into the darkness of the empty house. Taking long, powerful strides, Hades is soon halfway up the staircase, forcing me to chase him.
That’s all this has been between us these last few months: one maddening, endless chase. I catch up to him and grab his arm. “Hades!”
He goes still as stone at my touch. The banister beneath his hand splinters. His gaze slides up from the shattered wood beneath his fingers, to my unwanted hand, to my eyes, issuing a clear and silent command to let go. My heart hammers in my chest, the pendulum of my emotions swinging from anger to fear and back to anger once more. The moment I release my hold on him, he continues up the stairs like I never even touched him.
Hades reaches the landing and turns to wait for me to climb the last few steps. As I come level with him, he jerks his head sideways, indicating I should go down the hall.
“Oh, so now you want me to go first?” My smile is honey and thorns. “Fine.”
“You have always been first, Hekate.”
I roll my eyes at the empty formality of his words and turn down the hallway. As I pass the door to the game room, I spin on my heel to face him, arching an eyebrow. “Where are we going? Here?”
His voice is like a heated blade, sharp and hot. “No.”
I fucking hate his one-word answers, I think. Especially that one.
“Excellent, because I’m done with games,” I tell him, turning to move farther down the darkened hall. I pause at the library door, laying my hand on the lever. Before I can turn it, he blocks the entrance with his arm and looks down at me, his eyes burning into mine.
I let my fingertips fall from the handle as I glance down the hall. There’s only one place left for me to go – his bedroom. “Not in the twin hells, Hades.”
Hades glares at me, ignoring the comment. “I will not ask again.”
“You didn’t ask the first time. I’ll add grammar to the other lessons you need to learn.”
His hands clench and unclench, the effort to show no emotion costing him a great deal. “Hekate. Move.”
I stalk down the hallway towards the double doors leading to his room. I remember what I told him the first time he led me down this hall. Not unless I’m desperate, I said. I look over my shoulder at him and realize I desperately want to knock that look off his face.
A foot from the door, I turn to face him. I stop. Hades does not. He bears down on me, forcing me backward until my chest is almost touching his. I can feel his heart pounding, but he doesn’t say a word to me. Instead, he lifts his hand and presses his fingertips to the door, close beside my face. An oscillating flash of light crawls over the gilded ebony surface of the wood, and the door swings open behind me.
My lip curls at the way he orders me around like a slave girl. Maybe Persephone let him talk to her like this. That stops now. I give him the slightest of bows, hissing my words at him, hoping there is enough acid in my tone to eat him down to the bone.
I turn and enter Hades’ private chambers like I own them, surveying the room like a battlefield.
The plush Oriental rug beneath my feet. The dark and massive four-poster bed that dominates the room, draped in midnight and crimson silks, covered in furs. The fireplace that leaps into life the moment Hades crosses the threshold, and the sofa in front of it. The enormous mirror on the wall beside the bed, doubling the room with its reflection. The floor to ceiling windows and the moonlight spilling between the parted curtains. The vase of lilies on the nightstand that seems far too fragile to exist in this space. The scent of him…everywhere.
Hades follows close behind me, slamming the door shut. He waves his hand, and I hear a soft click as he seals us in. Incredulous, I mirror his movements as he circles me. He comes to a stop at the end of the bed and begins to remove his cufflinks.
“Did you just lock the fucking door?!”
He glares at me, tossing the links onto the chest behind him, before unbuckling his belt and following suit. “Yes, I locked the fucking door. You think I am just going to let you go?”
“Let me? I don’t belong to you!” I can taste blood on my tongue. His hands move to unbutton his shirt, not even acknowledging my fury. “I don’t know what you’re used to, King, but I promise, the last thing you want right now is to be locked in a room with me.”
I reach for my power, deep enough to blow the goddamn doors off their hinges, and…nothing. It’s like it was in the orchard. I can feel my power, but once again, it’s on the other side of a locked door, and he’s on this side. With me.
“You warded the room?” I laugh, mocking him. “What’s wrong, Hades? Afraid you can’t handle the Witch Queen?”
Chest heaving, Hades makes it halfway through the buttons on his shirt as I speak, before tearing the rest of them off and hurling his shirt to the floor. He stalks towards me and stares me down, eyes lit up like a full moon, his aura stormy and palpable.
“Do not accuse me of being afraid. You are the one who has been terrified of me. This entire time, you did not trust me enough to tell me what was going on until my nephew had to step in.” The serpents on his ribs and arm twist slightly, the scent of burning wood emanating off of him.
“Is that what you think? That it was a matter of trust? That this was all about you?” I growl at him. “I was afraid of hurting her, Hades!”
He scoffs, curtly shaking his head. “You cannot hide behind your secret anymore, Hekate. It was not your secret that had you trembling between my hands in my office, or at the Gardens, or in the library. And it is not your secret that has you trembling now.”
It takes everything in me not to take a step backward. I feed my fear to my anger and watch it die.
“What is it you want to hear, Hades? That I want you? That I’ve wanted you for tens of thousands of years, to the point of having to force myself to feel nothing, to avoid feeling even a flicker of that? That I almost said no to accepting your invitation because I knew it would lead us right here, that I wanted you that much even then? Do you want me to tell you how relieved I am now that you know? That I no longer have to choose between loving Seph and loving you? Is that what you want?”
I barely realize that I’m screaming at him. I can feel my magic thrashing outside the door like a rabid wolf, mirroring my madness – rage, desire, hunger, all of it. Hades stares at me for a long moment, unmoving, his entire body shaking. He takes a shuddering breath and clasps his hands behind his bare back, chewing hard on his lip. It’s the same thing he did in the library when his control was held by a thread, until it wasn’t.
The tide of power in the room shifts. Darkness folds around him, cloaking his voice. He closes his eyes briefly, and when he reopens them, there’s a tinge of orange to them.
“Do you remember what I said to you during our chess game? That the only reason you were not already in my bed was because of the secret you were keeping?”
Sometimes truth comes in a rush, like an avalanche, a slow rumble that builds like thunder in the mind, then buries you. Sometimes it steals in on silent feet, dealing death to our illusions to free us from them. The truth in his eyes does neither. It’s been sitting there since we walked into the room, waiting for me to see it, biding its time. The evidence is all around me – his cufflinks on the chest of drawers, his shirt on the floor.
“Since that reason no longer applies, let us finish the game we started, Hekate.” He’s barely breathing as he closes the remaining distance between us. “I intend to take the Queen if she remains in this room. It is your move. Are you staying or going?”
And suddenly, it’s that simple. Black. White. Stay. Go. Yes. No.
Once again, I am standing in front of him, looking up into his eyes, words of surrender on my tongue. Hades looms over me, eyes glowing like a firebrand in the darkness, waiting for my answer. He says nothing. There’s no need for words. They’ve already been said.
You have to tell me. You are going to say it because you want to.
And I realize…I want to.
“I will be staying.”
Hades moves too fast for me to see, pinning me against the back of the door, drawing my legs around his waist. His mouth assaults mine, his tongue breaching my lips, coaxing a muffled cry of submission from my throat. A wave of hunger rolls through me at the hard press of his body between my thighs. His lips blaze a trail across my jaw and downward, his teeth sinking into the curve of my neck. A low groan rumbles in his throat as I claw at his shoulders, gasping.
“I have waited for this for thousands of years, Skia,” he murmurs beside my ear. His voice is dark and thick with desire. “This time, I will not be closing my eyes.”