“I don’t want to go back,” Zerina whispered, not wanting to break the peacefulness of the moment.
“I think that every time I visit here.”
She wondered how many women he had shared this same expression with, then broke off the thought, not wanting the beauty of their time together spoiled.
“I’ve never brought anyone here but you. It’s my retreat.”
She stared up at him, trying to gauge if he was telling the truth and seeing he was. “Thank you.”
“We have to go.” His melancholy showed he didn’t want to leave any more than she did. “I’ll bring you back another time. Close your eyes.”
Trusting him, she closed her eyes after she imprinted the beauty around her to memory. She believed that he would bring her back, but nothing would compare to seeing it for the first time.
She started to lift her eyelids at the achingly tender way he had said her name. Before she could, though, she felt the dizzying rush of Hades transporting them.
Once she was on firm ground again, she opened her eyes, expecting to see her bedroom or Hades’. What she didn’t expect was to see a room full of people staring at her in shock.
Spinning around, she frantically searched for Hades’ face among the sea of people. A woman had parted the men when she had appeared.
The two women stared at each other in stunned silence.
When her sister tearfully gave a sob, they started running across the room toward each other. Zerina felt her own sobs as they met in the middle, hugging each other for several minutes before they could find the words to talk.
“How did you get here?”
“Where am I?”
They laughed, starting over.
“How did you get here?” Broni rushed out before she could ask her question again.
“Hades.” Pain bloomed in her chest as if she had been struck by a bullet. Zerina had been present several times when humans had met their end that way. She was sure her expression was a mix of the same emotions.
She looked around the room for him again, wanting to burst into tears that he wasn’t there. However, she was overjoyed to see Broni again.
When her aunt Destiny shoved her way through the crowd, she couldn’t hold back her gut-wrenching sobs any longer.
Destiny pushed her own tears away, putting a comforting arm across Zerina’s shoulders to lead her to a table.
Taking a seat, she buried her face in the hands.
“What did that bastard do to you?” Destiny demanded. “I’ll find his entrance and kill him if he hurt you.”
Gathering herself, Zerina shook her head. “He didn’t do anything. I’m fine. I’m just happy to see you both.”
“I’ll send Balder to tell Fate and Valentine you’re here.”
Zerina took Broni’s hand as she sat down next to her. “Where are we?”
“In a clubhouse in Ohio.”
Zerina saw a massive man come to stand by Broni’s side, giving her a concerned look.
“I take it this is your husband who Jinx told me about?”
Broni nodded happily. “Rhys, this is my sister Zerina.”
The man was so large Hades would only come to his shoulder. Thinking about Hades had the dull pain in her soul resuming.
Why had he sent her back without telling her what he was going to do?
She distracted herself from the inner turmoil by concentrating on the man by Broni’s side. He looked familiar to her, yet she was certain she had never met him before.
Broni’s lips twitched. “He’s not as easy to recognize as he was in his other lives.” Broni gave her husband a look of adoration. It was then that it clicked with her.
“I didn’t recognize him. The last time I saw him was when I carried his soul here. He has filled out since I’ve seen him.”
Broni explained how she and Rhys had met in the clubhouse they were now sitting in. She explained how she had used the opportunity to try to save his former wife and children from being murdered when they had become separated by death. When she hadn’t succeeded, she followed him for years to keep him from succumbing to the dangerous situations he had placed himself in to end the torture of living without his wife and children.
Zerina knew her sister had had a fixation on him from past lives, but that she had shadowed him for years until a club member had dragged her out of the shadows, she hadn’t known.
Thank Mother he had. Broni had been safe in the club when Dionysus had turned the humans in the town into Drearien.
“How did you manage to survive?” Zerina tightened her hold on Broni’s hand.
“If Thor hadn’t shown up, I’m not sure we would.”
Zerina listened speechlessly as Broni told of her return home, becoming sad when she said she deserved Mother’s displeasure and was sent back to earth without her powers. She couldn’t berate her. She would have done the same thing. She had known the souls that she had given to Rhys and his wife weren’t meant to belong.
It had always been her saddest duty when she had to deliver a soul who, by no fault of their own, weren’t meant to live a full life. She was always met by Mother when their earthly life was over, enfolded in her loving arms so they wouldn’t know the loss of a mother’s love.
She sized up Rhys. His appearance had undergone a tremendous change. His body was more muscular and his golden soul showed that he had become one of Mother’s favorites.
“I’m glad you’re safe with Rhys and Destiny. I wish our mother and Cara were here.”
“If we knew he was going to send you here, she would have never left.” Destiny returned after sending Balder to Fate.
“He didn’t tell me, either. He must have become bored with me.” Her pain had her revealing more than she intended. “He had just taken me to visit Shambhala—”
“Hades took you to see Shambhala?” Destiny asked in disbelief.
“Yes …” Zerina missed the astonishment on her aunt’s face as she recounted what happened. “When we left, I thought he was transporting me to his domain. Then, when I opened my eyes, I was here.” A sudden thought had her lurching to her feet. “Destiny, do you think it’s a mistake I’m here? Could Zeus have intercepted us when he was transporting us, and he was the one who sent me here? I assumed Hades had, but what if I was wrong and Zeus has captured him?” She frantically looked at Destiny, terrified for Hades. He might need her. “You have to return me.”
Destiny stared at her, remaining mute, her eyes showing the answer to Zerina’s fears.
“He sent me, and he’s not in danger …” Anguish had her voice wobbling.
“No, I’m sorry, Zerina.”
She could tell her aunt was trying to be delicate of her feelings.
“At least he didn’t treat you like Athena. He returned her in her sleep. She was so furious she ranted for a century that he hadn’t told her t
o her face before sending her back. She said he hates when women beg to stay. It saves him from having to listen to their arguments.”
“He’s a coward.” Broni got up, placing an arm around her sister’s waist. “The next time I see him, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.”
“That’s better than what you would have given him the last time he was here.”
Zerina looked at Broni curiously at Rhys’s comment.
Broni blushed. “I may have been a little enamored when I saw him face-to-face for the first time.”
“I can’t blame you. He is handsome.”
Destiny snorted. “Thank Mother I’ve always been able to keep my senses around him.”
“My mother said you chased after him when he was at court. That you’ve hated him ever since he turned you down,” Broni reminder her.
“Because he wanted our mother,” Zerina told her.
Broni and Destiny looked at her at that piece of information.
“It’s true. Hades told me himself.”
“Damn, you learn something new every day. My dear sister never told me that. I just thought he wasn’t attracted to me.”
“I don’t know if she knew.”
“Hades never mentioned his lovers. They were the ones who couldn’t keep their mouths shut.”
Broni took Zerina by the arm, moving her away from the men who were unashamedly listening to their conservation. She and Destiny found a corner where they could talk to Zerina privately.
“If Hades was interested in our mother at court, does that mean you and he never …” Broni tried to delicately probe into Zerina’s stay with Hades. “That you and he never …”
“No, it doesn’t mean that. I don’t think he was suffering from unrequited passion, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Yes, but that isn’t what I want to know.”
It was a good thing Hades hadn’t escorted her back. Destiny’s protective instincts were coming on. If her aunt was this furious, her mother and father would be doubly so.
“Did you and Hades become … involved?”
“I’m no different than the goddesses at court. I fell in love with him.”
“I don’t think what they experienced was love. I’d call it something else.”