Putting her hand to her mouth, she bit down on her knuckles to prevent herself from making a sound. Searching for her own doorknob, she blindly opened her door then lunged inside, managing to close the door behind her before falling on the bed.
Some women had all the luck where men were concerned, and then there were women like Abby who had no luck at all.
“Good morning, Maxi.” Zerina paused on her way from swimming to see the progress he had made since she had past him to go for her swim. Unfortunately for him, it was the same. Since being in Hades, he was still digging in the same spot. She had asked Hades repeatedly since they had become lovers why he didn’t stop him.
“He’s been digging for centuries; why not give him another punishment?”
Hades had shrugged. “I will when he stops digging.”
“You’re not forcing him to?”
“No. Maxi is a victim of his own stubbornness.”
Staring down at the man, she wished some words from her would convince him to stop, but she knew there weren’t. Zerina would have been driven mad from the simple chore, yet the man’s eyes weren’t insane. They were keen and perceptive.
“He’s using you.”
Zerina tensed when he stopped digging to pin her in place with his perceptive gaze.
“Hades doesn’t care about you any more than the other women who traipse by me to swim in the same pool you do. Doesn’t it bother you that you are swimming in the same pool as them?”
She wanted to leave, affronted by his blunt comment.
“Yes, it bothers me, but not as much as knowing that he shares his bed with them.”
“At least you’re honest. I felt sorry for you. Now I see I don’t have to.”
“You felt sorry for me?”
“Yes, you’re the only one of his women who talks to me. Why?”
“I felt sorry for you.”
“For me? Why? You know what I did to deserve to be here.”
“Yes, but it’s still hard to watch you doing the same task every day. How do you keep yourself sane?”
“By reminding myself that I deserve to be here. Every man, woman, and child who lost their life because of me lost the ability to live their full life. Even if each of them lived a hundred years, I still haven’t fulfilled the time I stole away from them.”
“You feel regret?”
“At the time, I didn’t. It took at least two centuries for me to realize what I had stolen from them. I was a ruler with great power. I used it to torture and kill them to earn my people’s respect. Hades earned his respect by being what I should have been—a strong leader.”
“Do the souls not fear him?”
“They fear his punishments, not him.”
“What’s the difference?”
“We make our own punishments that were forged in our lifetime. Hades didn’t just pick us out and decide to carry us down here. We’re here of our own doing. We may pretend our deeds weren’t evil, but there’s no arguing with the facts when Hades can show us the crimes we committed.”
“There’s no denying that the steps we take in life lead us down a road that ends with Mother’s reward or Hades’ justice.”
“That may be true about me and the rest of the souls down here, but you being here wasn’t by your own doing.”
“Wasn’t it? I knew when Cara asked my permission to escort a soul to her afterlife that I was disobeying my mother. I did it anyway. There’s a saying about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.”
“At least you have that excuse. I did not.”
She started to lay a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. However, seeing what she was about to do, Maxi shrugged away from her touch.
“Don’t pity me. Are you in love with Hades?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then save your pity for yourself. You’re going to need it, not I.”
Wounded at his caustic gaze, she turned, leaving him alone to his interminable chore.
Opening the door into Hades’ castle, she stared at her feet as she started past Hades’ office. Tartarus opened the door, thinking she wanted to go inside. She usually left Hades alone during the mornings. However, deciding to see if she could talk him into a game of chess, she went inside to see him staring out the window behind his desk.
Slipping her arms around his waist, she felt him give a start of surprise.
“No one has ever been able to accomplish that feat.”
She laid her cheek against his suit-covered back, clasping her hands around his lean waist. “I surprised you?”
“That must mean you trust me.”
“Or I’m getting old.”
“You, old?” She tightened her arms around him. “I don’t think so.”
“What do I owe the pleasure of your company? You never seek me out in my office.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m reassuring myself that I’m not being a fool like Maxi said I am.”
“He said that?”
“Practically. Don’t be angry with him. He didn’t say anything that I haven’t said to myself. He asked if I was in love with you.”
He turned around to face her, bringing his arms around her. “What did you say?” Hades’ eyes bore into hers as Maxi’s had.
“Nothing I haven’t said before. You may not be an easy man to love, but I love you.”
“I am not a man.”
“Yes, you are. You’re part god, monster, demon, saint, and lover. But above all of those, you are a man.”
“If I am, it is the smallest part of me.”
Zerina covered his lips with her fingertips. “It is definitely the best part of you. It’s your only weakness.” She grinned at him impishly.
Hades grinned back. “Why is that?” He lifted her until her breasts were plastered against his chest.
Zerina rolled her eyes. “I think that is pretty self-explanatory.”
“You think so?”
Zerina felt a dizzying rush. Closing her eyes, she thought that Hades was transporting her to his bedroom, but when she felt her feet once again on firm ground, she stared around her in awe.
“It’s beautiful. I thought I had been everywhere in the universe.”
“Among other names for it. I noticed you reading Lost Horizon.”
“Did you pay as much attention to the other women as you do me?”
A stabbing pain not only struck her head, but her heart. She couldn’t hide the hurt he had inflicted in her mind, but she could prevent him from seeing it. Stepping away from him, she bent down to take her shoes off so she c
ould step on the tender blades of grass.
“Zerina … I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did.”
The pleasure she had received from him bringing her here was swamped with feelings of wanting to flee. He had ruined the magical moment of her first experience in this kingdom, just as he had her first experience of making love.
She had never seen grass or trees so green. The mountains so tall that they disappeared into the clouds. It had a mystical appearance, yet the grass under her feet was real, and so was Hades as he came up behind her, turning her to face him.
He lifted a hand to brush away the tear that was coursing a path down her cheek. “I didn’t mean it.” He stared down at her. “It’s not easy for a god to admit he’s vulnerable.”
“It’s hard for a woman, too,” she said, giving him a painful smile.
“I’m not like the characters in your books or Valentine. I’m never going to give you roses or poetry, or give you hope that one day I will fall in love with you. Even when I married Persephone, I didn’t give her a wedding ceremony. I just spoke the words to bind us together.”
“Then your marriage was defeated before it began. Jinx told me that my father married both of my sisters while I was away.”
“Maybe so.” He shrugged. “But I doubt it. Most marriages don’t last long in the heavens or earth.”
“You are so jaded. How can you stand here and not realize that beauty exists not physically, but in the soul?” Zerina moved to a tree to wind her arm around the slim trunk that was still a sampling. Taking a deep breath, she let the fresh air fill her lungs. “Can’t you feel it?” she whispered reverently. “It’s so peaceful here. It has to be the most beautiful place I have ever seen or heard about on Heaven or earth.”
“Or is it just a figment of my imagination?”
“Why is it when I feel joy in something you have to crush it?”
He angrily pulled her away from the tree before bearing her down on the grass. She beat at his chest to make him move, but Hades just pinned her hands above her head.