“Ah, Hades, you came just in time to witness your slut’s death,” Teicu’s seductive voice whispered through the room. Hades could hear the hint of suggestion she was trying to force inside his brain, but he shook off her attempt.
“Zerina won’t be the one going into the fire pit.”
Hades recognized the female voice that spoke from behind him.
“That’s where you’re wrong. So wrong,” Morgana taunted, stepping out of the shadows when Hades spun around.
“So wrong.” The chackling laughter of Morgana filled the camber, sending a chill down his back. However, it wasn’t Morgana’s mad laughter that sent the chill. It was the two men who stood behind her.
Grimm and Tartarus, both their eyes blank, were hypnotized by the spell Morgana had placed on them.
His bodyguards being turned against him didn’t frighten him. It made him furious. That they had lowered their guards enough to let Morgana assume control was worth a punishment that he would have to exact once Zerina was safe.
She crackled. “Your day has finally come, Hades.”
“Organized by you? That’s doubtful. You don’t have the power to harm me,” Hades scoffed.
“I may not have the power to harm you, but I can Zerina. Grimm!”
At Morgana’s order, the rope holding Zerina’s feet slipped lower until the strands of her hair were brushing the molten lava of the fire pit.
Hades remained outwardly calm, proud that Zerina didn’t scream in panic. Her fear-filled gaze clung to his, certain that he could save her.
Hades didn’t spare Tartarus or Grimm a glance. He had to break the spell that Morgana had on them. One wrong move and Zerina would be eviscerated in the pit. However, he had felt the binding of his powers when he had entered the room. Only one person had the power to accomplish that feat.
“Have you hurt her?” Hades clenched his hands into fists. If a single strand of Mother’s hair had been damaged, he would destroy Morgana until the only thing left were her eyes so she could watch him grind them into dust with his shoe.
“What makes you think I would have harmed Mother?” Morgana’s mad laughter had turned into a troubled frown.
“Only Merlin would have the power to bind my powers. Mother would have stopped him if she knew.”
“You have always been too smart for your own good.” Her taunt didn’t hide the beginning of fear Hades was sub-consciously planting in her mind.
“You have put too much faith in Merlin. The old fart doesn’t have enough power to harm me, despite the lies he’s told you.” Hades unclenched his fists, confidently staring down at his perfectly manicured nails.
“He has enough power to bind yours, to make a fool of Mother!” Her shrilled voice rose as her fears increased from the suggestions he was placing in her mind, as he became more assured. “Merlin’s a genius. You and the others have played right into our hands.” The old bitch was practically foaming at the mouth from his insults about her mentor.
“Or you could have played into mine.” Hades spoke the words that would dissolve the binding on his powers. At the same time, he waved his hand to send Zerina safely back to her room.
He had warned Mother about letting Merlin bind the powers of the gods during the council meetings, especially when a goddess carried a child. What would prevent Merlin from using it as he willed? Therefore, as a safeguard, Mother had taught him the words to break the spell if there was ever a need.
Teicu and Morgana were frozen in place. With one thought, he removed the spell Morgana had taught Teicu to place on Grimm and Tartarus, and they both dropped to their knees, exposing their backs, waiting to be destroyed.
“Teicu lured us to her room to …” Grimm looked at Tartarus, who was just as furious. “When we were there, she placed a spell on us.”
“You both left Zerina vulnerable to an attack.” Hades had no sympathy for his guards.
“My king, I have failed you.” Tartarus held out his hand where an ax appeared, lifting it for Hades to take.
Hades waved it away. He wouldn’t allow the two men get off that easily.
“As I did. It was my fault. I let her persuade me to call for Tartarus.”
“The responsibility lies on my shoulders.” Hades stared down at them, deciding to delay their punishments for a few moments longer. “I gifted you with Teicu, knowing she was a manipulative bitch.”
Hades went to Teicu, who was frozen. The seductiveness was gone from her eyes and now contained fear. He placed a hand on her chin, staring down at her. “You will never be able to lure another man to betray me.”
His grip tightened on her chin as he used his power to rip her immortality away, leaving a mortal woman to bear the excruciating pain of his hold.
Bones could be heard crushing beneath his hand. Tears fell from eyes that became horrorstricken. He could hear her pleas in his mind, hear her tell him how Morgana had convinced her to betray him because he had tossed her aside.
Uncaring of her reasoning, he used his mind to pillage her, leaving her without a coherent thought. When he was done with her, she couldn’t think a single word, much less a sentence.
Unfreezing her, he lifted her over his head and threw her into the fire pit, watching in satisfaction as she was unable to scream.
Straightening his suit, he then walked to Morgana. “You miserable bitch. When I get finished with you, you’re going to wish I had given you the same merciful death.”
In the blink of an eye, Morgana found herself hanging over the fire pit, just as Zerina had been.
Hades turned to his two men. “Tartarus, I trusted you to keep my domain safe. Never will I give you the same trust. The only reason you’re still alive is because of the dedication you have served me over the centuries.”
He then blasted into Grimm’s mind. When he was done, Hades moved closer to him, placing his forehead against Grimm’s. “My former friend, you have lost your power. Your concubines will be returned to court, and you will become just another wraith to serve my needs.”
Grimm changed into the creature he decreed him to become. When it was finished, Hades waved a negligent hand, removing him from sight.
“Get out of my sight, Tartarus, before I change my mind.”
His friend was gone before he could finish his order.
Calming his inner demon, he transported himself to Zerina’s room. She was sitting on the side of her bed, still clearly shaken.
Hades went to his knees, brushing her hair away from her face. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. What did you do to them?”
“They have been dealt with. It won’t happen again.”
“I heard Morgana and Teicu talking. They said you left.”
“I did. I trusted Tartarus to see to your safety. Clearly, he failed to live up to my expectations. The next time I must leave, I’ll take you with me,” he promised.
“You will?” Zerina’s eyes lit up in joy.
“Not to let you go. I was merely stating that I won’t trust anyone else with your safety.” He crushed her elation while rubbing a lone finger across her high cheekbone. “I saw your mother and Destiny while I was out.”
“You did? How are they? Did you tell them where I am?”
“Slow down, so I can answer your questions. Yes, I did. They seemed fine, despite them having Rocque about to rip your mother to shreds with his teeth. And yes, I told them where you are, and that I wouldn’t be giving you back anytime soon.”
Zerina turned her cheek away from his touch. Feeling hollow, she kept her eyes averted, but she did reach out to touch his arm. “Did you tell me just to torment me?”
Hades stared down at her hand. “No.” He rose to sit next to her on the bed. “I went to ease their minds. I knew you didn’t want them worrying about you.”
She lifted her eyes to his. “You did it to be kind?”
He heard the skepticism in her voice.
“Yes. Despite what you think of me, I’m
not a creature devoid of emotions. I have made mistakes with you that I regret. I can’t promise I won’t make them again, but I will try.”
“Please let me go.”
“I can’t, Zerina. It’s not safe for you. Truthfully, even if I thought you were safe, I wouldn’t.”
Her eyes became reproachful. “Why?”
Hades stood from the bed, walking a few inches away and giving her his back. “I have lived here alone for centuries.” What he was about to confess wasn’t easy, but Zerina deserved the truth about his treatment of her. It wasn’t for a god of his stature to admit to being vulnerable. “In case it has escaped your notice, Hades isn’t a place of beauty. My days are spent casting judgments against those who will never care that they have hurt others. It takes a toll on a man’s soul until the only thing that is left is the few pleasures that makes my days and nights more bearable.”
“Yes, and even those can become just another chore to fill my time. It was easier to find a wife. I met Persephone at court. When I summoned her, she begged to stay, despite her mother’s demand that she go home. I granted her wish, telling her she would grow to hate it here. I told her I could never give her the children she wanted. She told me she loved me, that she never wanted to leave me. I convinced myself we could make it work, despite me not loving her.
“Persephone brought a light to the drudgery of my days. Until, like Jinx, she started missing home. I let her return, splitting the year with her to keep her happy. I wasn’t unfaithful to her once. I made a commitment to her. I have never broken a vow, and I might not have loved her, but I cared for her and didn’t want to hurt the friendship we had formed over the centuries.
“I knew the second when she betrayed her vows to me. When she returned home, I was going to divorce her, but once again, I let her pleas influence my better judgement. She said she wanted a child, that she was content now and wouldn’t betray me again. I read her mind and knew she lied. Still, I gave her another a chance, even though I asked her not to go the next spring, while she kept pleading otherwise. I watched her leave, taking the child I considered my own, knowing she would betray me again.
“She had become fixated on Zeus the way she had been on me. He took what she offered until he grew bored, sending her away. I moved my entrance so that, when she tried to come home, she couldn’t. I was finished believing her lies. I met with her to break my vow to her and send her to her mother.”
“You divorced her yet don’t seem to hold a grudge against Zeus?”
“Zeus didn’t force her, neither did my brother try to coerce her. She threw herself at him continuously when he was at court. He took what was offered.”
That his brother had taken his wife still stung his pride. He would have never betrayed either of his brothers, but he was aware the temptations of court.