“That’s different.” The dartboard was normal sized with a large eye on the front, the pupil was the bull’s eye.
Hades gave her a dart. “Want to try your luck?”
“I’ve never played darts before.”
“Talat won’t mind.”
“I like to name my toys.”
“Oh.” Zerina threw the dart, hitting the top of the board. “It’s fun.”
“Yes, it is. We’ll have a game after you practice more.”
Zerina explored the room, examining some of the games she had never seen before. A billiards table was one she was familiar with.
She had moved to another seating area where an old wooden tube sat on a small table. She picked it up, shaking it. She was about to take the top off when Hades stopped her.
She set the wooden tube back down on the table. “I’ll give that one a pass.”
“I thought you would. If you’re ready?”
Before she could follow him out the door, she heard voices pleading for help. When she turned to see where the sound came from, Hades appeared by her side, giving a look of dissatisfaction around the room. The voices stopped. “Anything wrong?”
“I thought … No, it’s fine. I thought I heard someone. It must have been the bones.” Zerina shuddered, not wanting to know whose bones were in the wooden tube.
Hades wasn’t the only one who played the game. She had watched it played many times through the centuries. Usually, the bones were from a sheep or goat’s ankle, and a pair of dice. She didn’t want to think Hades had used the bones of one of his prisoner’s, but she wouldn’t put it past him.
Moving out of the room, they turned a corner where an incredibly large, gruesome monster appeared. As they approached, she unconsciously reached for Hades’ arm.
He patted her hand, leading her closer to the giant.
“Show yourself, Tartarus,” Hades ordered.
The monster transformed into a tall, handsome man who gave her a mocking glance as he opened a large door.
“Zerina, this is Tartarus.”
“You are as beautiful as your mother.”
“You’ve met my mother?”
“A time or two,” he acknowledged with a grin.
“Has she seen you in this form?”
Her mother had given a graphic description of him, but she had never mentioned that he was so attractive. His curly brown hair went to his shoulders, and his massive chest and arms rivaled the Olympian gods’. If she hadn’t been greeted by his monstrous form first, Tartarus’ striking good looks would have attracted her.
“No one has seen Tartarus in human form outside the Underworld. I don’t need more women willingly committing crimes to come down here and meet him. I have enough problems with the women that meet Grimm.”
Zerina gave a brief look around the room. This one had the least amount of furniture than any other so far, only containing an imposing desk and a large black leather chair. Portraits lined the walls, all more beautiful than the one next to it.
“You can usually find me here if you want to talk to me.” Taking her arm, Hades escorted her back out into the hallway.
Zerina gave Tartarus a sidelong look as they moved away.
When they turned another corner, leaving the man behind, Hades released her arm. “You found him attractive, didn’t you?”
“Who wouldn’t? It would be hard not to admire him for his looks. You have portraits lining every wall in your castle; why should you be angry that I stared at a man whom any painter would love to paint?”
“Staring at a picture of Tartarus wouldn’t give me pleasure.”
“Well, it gave me a great deal of pleasure when he transformed out of a monster,” Zerina quipped, uncaring that she was making him angry.
Stepping away from his side, she put more space between them. She would never willingly be attracted to Hades. She didn’t care how handsome he was, or the sexual heat he omitted. The dark soul might not be visible to the naked eye, but it was in his actions. She was never going to forgive him for the time she had spent in the pit.
“I do not want your forgiveness.”
Before she could move, she found herself pushed against the wall next to her, the portrait above shaking at the force. He crushed her breasts with his chest, while a lean thigh parted her legs, finding her center that was growing damp at his nearness. Zerina found herself straddling that leg.
“Let me go.”
“You think I’m cruel? I can show you cruelty beyond your imagination. You are a spoiled little bitch who continues to think that what you want matters. It doesn’t. Only my wishes matter down here. Do you understand me? I won’t continue to tolerate your disrespect. Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly.” She tried to turn her face away, unable to bear looking into his eyes. She wanted to grind herself down on the knee that was creating an even hotter fire than she had lived through in the pit.
Hades pushed his knee higher. “I am not cruel, despite your belief. Do you think Zeus or Poseidon would tolerate your impertinence if you talked to them in the same tone?”
She trembled when Hades turned her face toward him with his firm hand. “No,” she gasped. His lips were a hairsbreadth away from hers. “Don’t kiss me,” she thought repeatedly.
Hades gave her a sinister smile. “I wasn’t going to. I only kiss women I am attracted to.” He released her, smoothing the sleeves of his suit down. “Shall we continue your tour?”
She wanted to tell him no, but she had no chance of escaping if she didn’t learn the outlay of the castle.
“You have no escape, anyway.”
“Will you stop reading my thoughts? Please,” she added on an afterthought when he looked at her.
“As you wish.” Hades waved a hand. “Your thoughts are now your own.”
“You can’t hear my thought now?” she asked suspiciously.
“No. They bored me, anyway. All you want is to stab me in my heart and escape. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I thought you would be more amusing. I’m beginning to realize I was mistaken.” Hades’ attitude had changed after they had left his office.
His demeanor cold, he opened the rooms she would be allowed inside, but no longer gave her an opportunity to explore inside before closing the door again.
Turning one corner, she noticed the black marble floor slanting downward, leading toward a large wooden door that creaked when he opened it. The black marble turned into dirt.
“Stay on this path if you venture off, Tartarus or Grimm will escort you back to your room. There is only one chamber you will be allowed inside.”
As they walked along the path, she could feel them descending, passing doors intermittently. They drew closer together the deeper they went. The path ended in a large chamber where an old man was digging with his bare hands at a stone wall.
Zerina put a hand to her mouth at the bloodied sight of his hands.
“Ignore Maxi. He used to brag that, if he went to hell, he would dig his way out. He hasn’t been successful, but he keeps trying.”
When the old man turned, Zerina’s sympathy deserted her, recognizing the tyrant. Hades was giving him a better chance than Robespierre had given those he had ordered to be guillotined.
In the chamber, three pathways branched out. Hades continued walking along the middle one.
They hadn’t gone very far when it ended in another underground chamber. The stone cliffs lifted so high she could see the sun.
She took a step forward, feeling the rocks under her feet then feeling water lapping at her feet.
“You can swim here, and no one will disturb you.”
Zerina curled her toes ecstatically at the warm feel of the water. “I’m never going to go back to my room. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you. I’m glad something in my castle pleases you.”
His harsh voice had her looking over her shoulder at him. Hades was sta
nding with his hands in his pockets as if he was waiting impatiently to leave.
She sat down on a boulder, bunching her gown up to dip her feet into the water. “I am sorry I’ve been a shrew. I miss my family. Jinx told me that Broni and Cara are both married now. I missed their weddings. I’ve never been away from home before, unless I was watching a soul be born, or a brief visit to earth. I even miss my bed.”
“You miss your bed?”
Zerina nodded unhappily. “It’s amazing what you miss that you never gave a thought to before.” She raised her face upward to feel the sunlight on her.
“When I was given this domain, I missed home also. I adjusted. Now I wouldn’t go back if I could.”
“You wouldn’t?” She didn’t believe him. Who would willingly give up the universe to be stuck in the Underworld?
“No, I wouldn’t. I don’t miss court, nor Mother’s interference.”