Mother smiled smugly at them. “Everyone thought that I was favoring Zeus as the ruler of the heavens. He’s still waiting for me to step down. The boy still hasn’t proven to me that he can handle it as well as I can, but at least he’s making a start. Poseidon … is Poseidon. The oceans calm him, but he has a temper. Sadly, they both take after Chronos. Hades has always been my favorite.” She gave a wink. “That’s just between us three. Now, we must hurry. Hades and I can’t be away long. Have you asked her yet? Everyone is waiting.”
“How could I? You won’t stop talking long enough for me to ask.” He gave her a glance of mock irritation.
“I’ll give you a few minutes.” Mother watched them expectantly.
“Mother!” Hades gave her a harassed look, and Zerina started giggling into his shoulder.
“Fine!” Mother turned toward the beauty of Shambhala. “I knew he was in love with you when he brought you here. I created it for him, so he could always visit a piece of home.”
“I’m going.” Mother harrumphed, moving farther away.
Hades looked down into Zerina’s twinkling eyes. “I missed you.”
“What would you have done if I hadn’t wanted to return?”
“Given up my kingdom. I couldn’t have stayed another day without you. It took everything I had to watch Mother carry you home. That’s why I didn’t return to the battlefield or attend your aunt’s burial rites. I knew I would ask you not to go with Mother afterward.”
“Why didn’t you? I know you heard me arguing with her that I didn’t want to go.”
“I want you to have your powers back. You would only get them back by going home. You deserve them back. You can use the Hall of the Death’s doorway to carry out your duties and return to me when you deliver your souls.”
“You won’t mind?”
“No. That’s why I wanted your powers returned. You will be able to bridge the gap between light and darkness.”
Zerina sighed. “I get the best of both worlds.”
They turned their heads at the sound of Mother tsking, seeing her tapping her foot impatiently.
Looking back down at Zerina, he saw her looking at him expectantly.
“Do I have to ask?”
Zerina smiled, curling her fingers under the collar of his suit. “It would be nice.”
“Will you marry me?” he hoarsely managed to croak out.
“Yes.” Her sweet answer left him humbled.
“I love you. I can finally say it and mean it. I couldn’t tell you with the responsibility of the stone weighing me down. When you told me what Maxi said to you, I knew you were in danger and had to get you out of my kingdom. I thought you may have been searching for the stone. I had promised Mother to keep it safe. If Chronos had found it, I would have lost you forever.”
“I had touched it without even knowing I had done so. I thought he had gone mad. Instead, his vision was right.”
“He was wrong. It wasn’t the stone you held in your hand. It was my heart.” He tangled his fingers in her hair, tugging her head back to kiss her. “The moment Mother placed the stone in my heart, it stopped beating. My soul lost sight of the light, becoming a demon who survived in the darkness and became afraid of love. It was only when Grimm brought you to me that the light touched my soul again. I didn’t hold you captive. It was you who captured this demon’s soul.” Hades lifted Zerina’s hand, placing a kiss into the palm of her hand, then closed it tightly into a fist. “A soul that is yours for eternity.”
He stared down at her lovingly, admiring the gentle soul that Mother had gifted him. She had promised him a reward for hiding the stone and keeping it safe. He had told her he didn’t want a payment for doing his duty, so she had given him the treasures of the earth, which he had given away because they meant nothing to him. By taking nothing, he had ended up with the greatest treasure of all—Zerina.
When he would have kissed her again, Zerina nodded over his shoulder. “I think everyone is getting tired of waiting.”
Hades lifted his head, seeing his Mother and Zerina’s family watching them.
“We can just say the words, if that’s what you want,” she whispered as they started walking forward to where their family had gathered in a circle.
“No. This time I’m doing it right. Would you mind if Mother—”
“She already asked. Father performed Cara’s and Broni’s wedding. He’ll understand that Mother wants to marry us. He can give me away.”
“He already doesn’t look happy.”
“That’s because Jinx is here. I had to invite her. If she hadn’t pretended to be sick to warn Mother …”
Hades felt her hand tremble in his.
“She sneaked Zeus into my domain.”
“Jinx has always been a sucker for a handsome man. If you hadn’t dangled her over that fire pit, maybe she would have trusted you.”
“Do you want to argue on our wedding day?”
“No.” She snapped her mouth closed.
“Good. We can save this fight for another day. We haven’t had make-up sex yet. We’ll save it for when we get bored.”
“You think you’ll get bored with me?” she teased him impishly.
“Not for a few centuries at least,” he joked, releasing her hand to give to Valentine.
Jinx winked, proving she and everyone else had been listening. “I made a batch of love potions if he grows bored. It will make him fall in love with you all over again.”
When the smiles on everyone’s faces disappeared, Jinx rolled her eyes.
“Why is it that, when Hades cracks a joke, everyone smiles and laughs, and I make a joke and everyone acts like the world is about to end?”
Mother held her hand out. When Jinx didn’t move, Mother wiggled her fingers. “Hand it over.”
Jinx reluctantly waved her hand and a vial appeared in Mother’s hand, which she casually tucked into her bosom.
Mother opened her mouth to begin the ceremony then paused, taking Jinx’s arm and shifting her to the other side of Rhys, who was standing next to Broni, leaving her standing on the other side of Hades. Rhys took her arm, moving her to the other side to stand next to Jinx.
Mother glared. “If everyone is finally ready, I have other … Cara, move before Jericho punches Hades. It would ruin their wedding day.”
Jericho reached out to snag his wife back. She had been leaning past Zerina to get a better look at Hades.
“Did you smell him? What is that smell?” Cara whispered loudly to Zerina, just as Mother was about to begin.
“It’s brimstone,” Mother snapped, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. “For the last time, are we ready?”
Seeing their nods, Mother sighed in relief, her face going soft and tearful. She didn’t grace many by performing their matrimony. She hated to preside over them unless she knew it would last. Zerina and Hades’ would last. Hades would see to that. If not him, then Fate would.
Giving her best friend a conspiratorial wink, she cleared her emotion-clogged voice. “My beloved children, we are gathered …”
Standing silently in the hospital room, Zerina watched the couple stare in awe and fascination at their newborn. It was heartwarming to see the family share the special moment of first seeing each other.
Zerina then left through the doorway, returning to the entrance of Hades’ castle. She lifted her eyes to the sun, enjoying the sunshine beating down on her. She was about to go inside when a hand slipped around her waist.
“What took you so long?”
Zerina smiled, leaning back against Hades’ chest.
“It was a first-time mother. The child was comfortable where he was. He kept his parents and me waiting.”
Hades turned her around in his arms. “I missed you.” Bending down, he ran his tongue over her lips. When he would have used it to part her lips, she jerked away from him in fury.
“How dare you!”
Hades stared at her in astonishment. “Since when do you begrudge your husband a kiss?”
“When it’s not my husband kissing me!” She stared him furiously. Then she raised her hand to smack the smug grin off his face. However, a hand stopped her mid-swing.
Zerina’s eyes darted to see who had stopped her, seeing her husband with a clenched jaw, holding her back from striking the imposter who had dared to touch her.
“Let me deal with my brother.”
Before she could protest, he moved her to the side to confront his mirror image.
“Show yourself, Zeus,” Hades commanded.
Zerina crossed her arms over her chest as Zeus transformed, tempted to pick up one of the rocks to bash both male heads. She was furious with Zeus because he believed she was stupid enough not to know when another man was kissing her, and she was just as mad at Hades for not letting her defend herself.
“I was just testing her, Hades. I didn’t want you to have another Persephone on your hands. It’s better to know now before you waste centuries with her as you did—”
Zeus’s head jerked back at the force of Hades’ fist smashing into his mouth.
Gaping, she saw Hades strike his fist out again, hitting Zeus on the nose.