“Are you hungry?” he asked solicitously, waving a hand to a small table that appeared by her side.
Sitting down at the table with the small feast laid before her, Zerina filled a goblet with the chilled wine, drinking it in one gulp, then pouring herself another.
“Allow me.” Hades gave her a small serving from each of the dishes, then sat down across from her, taking one of the rolls. Buttering it, he glanced at her to see her staring at him with flushed cheeks.
“Did you watch me?”
“No,” he answered her truthfully, taking a bite of his roll. “I’m afraid it would have been too tempting for me.”
Zerina’s blush deepened. “I would have thought that temptation would be one of your vices.”
Hades raised an inquiring brow. Was she flirting with him?
“I’m afraid that, while I enjoy tempting others, I do not like the same methods used on me,” he warned. “Despite your belief, I have never taken one of my female prisoners against their will, nor one incapable of making the decision of sharing my bed.”
“If you tell me you have never had sex with any of the women down here, I wouldn’t believe it.”
“I didn’t say that. I am a god, and the gods are notorious for their voracious appetites. Even your father grew bored with Fate and took a mistress, and he was a saint. I’m no saint.”
“No, you aren’t.”
“I appreciate beautiful women. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Do some of the women who beg for my favor have ulterior motives? Possibly. But I don’t hold it against them. I can be very magnanimous when I get what I want.”
He read her thoughts with a wry twist of his lips.
“Call me bastard as much as you want, but I prefer opportunist.” Before he could be angered by further thoughts, Hades finished his bread as she ate, pouring himself a glass of the wine. He didn’t seek punishments for thoughts unspoken out loud. Those that were stupidly spoken were what he retaliated against.
“When you’re done, would you like me to show you my home? That way you won’t have to be trapped in your room. I can show you the areas to which you will be given access.”
“Will Grimm guard me?” She continued eating unenthusiastically.
Hades almost grinned. Her inability to hide her emotions was refreshing.
“No, you will be given your freedom as long as you stay in the designated areas. Grimm or myself will only appear if you try to breach those boundaries.”
She dropped her fork onto her plate. “Then I’m done. Can we go now?”
“Zerina, do not make me regret giving you the freedom of the castle. I can make what you suffered in the pit feel like a pat on your hand.”
“That experience wasn’t a pat on the hand. It was a—”
“I would be careful about what you’re about to say. I will never punish you for your thoughts, but I won’t be berated for what you deserved. You and your family have no respect for authority. Mother may think it’s cute how you all behave. I do not.”
Hades arose, holding the door open for her and allowing her to go first. He saw her hands curl into fists, knowing she wanted to strike out at him again.
“You would do well to remember your lesson and hope it won’t be repeated. Let’s put this behind us, say it was a learning experience, and start over.”
With amusement, he read her furious thoughts, seeing his advice had been in vain.
Hades lead her down the long hallway, explaining as they walked, “These rooms on this floor are private. Don’t worry; each of the doors are locked, so you won’t be able to enter another room by mistake.” The doors were not locked by a key, but by him not allowing entry to anyone other than the occupant of the room, himself, Grimm, or his servants.
Hades stopped at the stairway that led downstairs, motioning to the hallway that continued to the left.
“Those are my private rooms. Feel free to enter any time you want company.”
“It’s not that cold down here,” she snapped, going down the stairs next to him.
Hades laughed. “So, it has to be a cold day in hell for you to seek me out?”
Hades paused when they reached the bottom of the stairs. “Do you know how many women have said that to me?”
“I don’t want to know. And I’m not most women.”
“How so? You’re flesh and blood now. I have Morgana to thank for that.” He provocatively touched a fingertip to the swell of her breast. “What was special about you is gone. Don’t delude yourself; you’re no less or more than any other prisoner within my domain. When you get to know me better, maybe my company won’t be so repugnant to you.”
“You’re not repugnant.”
“Ah, now I know you’re trying to play me.” Hades bent his head so his lips hovered over hers. Her mouth tempted him as no other woman’s had. He would have to watch her carefully to make sure she didn’t slip under his guard. “Play away, sweet Zerina. I enjoy a good game of cat and mouse.”
The grand entrance to Hades was spectacular. That he had been gifted with the Underworld palace showed Mother’s love. The great room was filled with white furniture and more portraits were along the walls. She had expected red furniture that would have sultry women relaxing on it.
Zerina ran a hand over the white velvet, feeling the soft texture. Her mother had white furnishings, but they were hard and cold.
“This way.” Hades directed her toward an open doorway.
Curious, she followed him inside, gasping when she saw what it contained.
“It’s a library.”
“You’re welcome to come here. If I don’t have a book you want to read, inform Grimm and he will get it for you.”
The library was massive, filled from floor to ceiling two stories high with books. Every nook and cranny was filled. Each wall had a tall ladder that could be slid to reach the higher shelves.
Walking across the floor, she went to one of the shelves, reading the titles. Then
she moved to another bookcase. When one title caught her eye, she gingerly pulled it out of its resting place.
“Don Quixote.” Zerina had thought she would never smile down there, but the first edition book from 1605 had her unable to hold one back. “I didn’t expect this book in your library.”
Hades’ lips curled in amusement. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I just imagined you reading more serious books.”
“I collect things I find beautiful, whether they are on a page of a book or standing in front of me.”
Zerina blushed at his compliment. Turning back to the book, she refrained herself from staring at his masculine beauty for too long.
His black hair was smoothed back, and his olive skin glowed with health, despite being underground for centuries. His body was elegant in a suit that she had thought was black, but when she had passed him as she entered the library, she saw it was a dark grey. It lay perfectly over his broad shoulders, yet it managed to show the muscles that bulged out from underneath the suit as he reached above her head, grabbing a book that was bound differently than the one in her hand.
“The Codex of Leicester? You can’t have this manuscript. There is only one in existence.”
“Actually, there are two.”
“How did you get it?”
“Don’t ask.” Taking the books from her, he dropped them casually down on a bright blue oversized couch. “You can read them later. There’s more to keep you occupied than books.”
She regretfully left the books behind, following Hades as he strode through the castle. He pushed one door open, showing a game room.
Zerina walked around the large room, seeing a small sitting area where there was a chessboard. Zerina leaned down to pick one of the chess pieces up, drawing in a shocked gasp at the lovely piece. Setting the king piece down, she started to pick up another one when she looked over and saw Hades throwing darts at a dartboard.
She tilted her head to the side, narrowing her eyes at the board. Another dart hit the same spot as the first.