Chapter 1 - VANESSA
Gods are assholes.
I was putty in Grey’s exploring hands until he broke our sizzling kiss and shoved me away.
Now, he stares at me, eyes flashing. “What are you doing here?”
Set back on my heels, I stumble and stare at him through a lustful haze. “What?”
“What are you doing in my penthouse on the one-hundredth floor in the highest tower in Elysium?”
Meaning we’re now in the Underworld. Because I’m dead.
I look at the modern apartment with the industrial look of brushed stainless steel, black granite and white marble, then hazard a guess. “You brought me here?”
“No!” he thunders. “I did not. They sent you here.” And this, apparently, is a big problem for him.
Leaning against a stone column, I rub my head. “They sent me? Who sent me?” What the hell is he talking about? “Isn’t this the Underworld? Your realm?”
I stare out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. We’re on top of the world — well, a world. It doesn’t look anything like the one I come from. What is this place? The top of the Underworld?
“By they, I mean the Judges,” Grey grumbles, and turns his back to me. He’s mentioned them before. The three Judges decide whether a soul ends up in the tar pits of the aptly named Tartarus or someplace nicer. What did he call it? Elysium.
I assume this isn’t the tar place, then. “This is okay, though, right?” The air feels dry and carries a sulphuric odor, but not what I imagined burning in Hell — I mean, the Underworld — would be like.
“It’s a boon…” he growls, raking the fingers of both hands through his to-die-for hair, all sexy dark curls with those godly red highlights, “for you.”
Reality hits me because I traded my soul for my brother. “Piper?” I swallow. “Did you save him?” Tears well in my eyes, and when Grey doesn’t answer because he’s too busy stomping across his gray living room, I repeat the question: “Did you save Piper?”
Grey spins to face me. “Yes!”
I take a step backward at the force of that word. It exudes power. He exudes power. This is definitely his space. “Can you show him to me?” My voice is a squeak under the rawness of his vitality.
With a huff, he tromps across the room and disappears down a hallway, returning moments later with a silver face on a stick. Make that an awesome silver face propped on a handle — an awesome silver face that looks disturbingly alive. At least, the snakes floating around her head in place of hair are definitely slithering.
I draw away when he offers the creature to me.
Grey frowns. “This is a window into the Overworld. It will show you whatever your soul desires.” He turns the head around, revealing a mirror on the other side.
“My soul’s desire?” I reach for the looking glass tentatively. It’s lighter than I expect, considering it has a head stuck on the back of it. No heavier than a real hand mirror.
“Yes.” Grey’s voice doesn’t emanate with quite as much force as last time but still carries a boom that shakes the air.
I peek one last time at the smirking silver face with slithering serpents for hair, then turn her away from me to study a beveled mirror that shimmers like spilled motor oil swirling over black water. It smells a little like an oil slick too.
“How does this work?”
“Tell it who you want to see.” Grey sounds more human now. Or at least, a lot less like the God of Thunder, which I know he isn’t.
“Show me Piper…please,” I say to the mirror. Grey snorts, and I turn away long enough to serve him a disapproving glare.
The oily sheen whirls into a vortex until an image takes shape with the kind of clarity you’d expect from a vintage TV.
Piper sits upright in his hospital bed. His hands grip the sheets on either side of him, and his lips are moving, but I can’t hear what he’s saying.
“How do I turn up the volume on this thing?” I ask.
“It’s a window, Vanessa. Not a Twitter feed. There is no sound.”
“But I want to know what he’s saying.” I stare at my brother’s lips but can’t make out a single word. He looks healthy, at least, cheeks flushed and eyes flashing.
“Miracles are my father’s department,” Grey says.
I can’t pull my eyes away from the crude image of my brother, but I say, “Didn’t you just make him well again?”
Grey’s lack of answer makes me glance up for a microsecond.
“What?” I ask.
“In a manner of speaking.”
I frown my need for an explanation.
“The power of your love saved your brother. I was merely its conduit.”
Tears form in my eyes as I observe the animation in my brother’s face. He’s alive, even if he seems upset. “And the cancer is gone?”
“Yes. Piper is a healthy twelve-year-old with many years of life ahead.” There’s a sadness in his voice.
“What aren’t you telling me, Grey?”
He sighs. “Look at him, Vanessa.”
I am looking at him. “He seems…angry.” I glance up. “Why is Piper angry?”
“Because you’re dead.”
My lips part as tears drip down my face. To save my brother, I had to break his heart. I see Mom near the beveled edge. She looks lost, her eyes filled with grief.
I did that to her. But I had to. I had to save Piper.
“Mom,” I whisper. “Please, don’t tell me this is the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.”
“You made a choice, Vanessa.” Grey’s words cut through my guilt. “Not an easy one, but you were adamant, determined to save your brother, whatever the cost to you.”
I swallow and wipe my eyes. “I didn’t consider who else I’d be hurting.” The image shifts a little to the right, and I see the target of Piper’s fury. “Raef.” Tears block my throat while a sob fights to break free.
“He loves you.” Each word falls from Grey’s lips like several tons of brimstone hitting a bed of cracked clay.
I love him too.
Did he…? “Did you hear what I just thought?”
His brow pinches. “Do you love Raef, or don’t you?”
A nod rattles itself out of me. “Of course, I do. He’s a gentleman. He proved to me gentlemen exist.”
Grey rolls his eyes as he spins away from me.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” How did I not notice how abrasive this man — god — could be while he was up top? Dorian referred to him as Zagreus. I’m going to have to look him up. Assuming they have internet down here.
He turns back. “You…” —His eyes flash with accusation— “shouldn’t have made him fall in love with you.”
My turn for a mega eye roll. “No one can make someone else fall in love with them. The question is, what are you going to do to make him feel better?”
“Me?” He sounds shocked.
Did I just grow three heads and bark? “Yes, you. You’re his brother, and you can go back…” I waggle a finger in the general direction of up. “You can go back up there and tell him I’m okay.”
“Why should I?”
“Sheesh, I just said. Because you’re his brother, and you should care about the condition of his heart.”
“I’m in the business of souls, Vanessa. Not hearts.”
No kidding. “So, you’re telling me you don’t have one?” I frown darkly. “I thought gods came with all the accouterments. They seem to manage to reproduce readily enough.”
“That’s lust. And reproducing is more my father’s thing.”
“Really?” I lather on the sarcasm. “Three brothers by three different women…”
“I’ve at least a dozen more,” Grey responds, offhandedly. “Besides, Raef is going to want to kill me the next time he sees me.”
“Why is that good?”
“Because while he’s attempting to throttle you, you can tell him I’m okay, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll forgive…” — maybe not forgive — “well, not kill you.”
But will he ever forgive me?
Grey huffs. “He can’t kill me. I’m immortal.”
“From what I’ve read, a god can still suffer, even if he can’t die. Um, Prometheus comes to mind.” Cursed to have his liver pecked out by an eagle on a daily basis.
Grey gives me a dirty look, which I ignore.
My eyes drift back to the image in the mirror. Raef’s face is still as Piper rails against him. I brush a finger across Raef’s cheek.
He jerks and looks around as if he felt my touch. Oh. Maybe he did.
“You should take a shower.”
I blink, breaking away from the mirror. “What?”
“A shower,” Grey repeats as he approaches me. He rubs his thumbs across my cheeks. They come away covered in gold dust as I shiver under his arousing touch. The color on his fingers gleams in contrast to the shades of gray everywhere else.
I set the mirror down on the back of a couch. “What is that stuff?”
Grey smirks. “What’s left of Aroz’s golden arrow.”
“What happened to it? And more importantly, what’s it doing all over me…I mean, us.” Grey’s also well bedecked with the stuff. “You said Aroz is your brother, right?” That godly guy who participated in my sexy dream at the tavern.
I remember seeing him — possibly with wings, come to think of it — just before Grey carried me away. He’s stunningly handsome, younger than Grey and Raef, but with similar features and glittery gold highlights in his hair.
“Wait, was he trying to kill me?” I ask, though I guess it doesn’t matter because I’m already dead.
“Aroz’s arrows don’t kill people,” the Don of the Underworld says.
Aroz’s arrows? Isn’t that a tad redundant?
Grey snorts. “They make the target fall in love with the first person they see.”
I pull a frown. “I guess being pulverized renders it ineffective then because I’m definitely not in love with you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” he responds, a little too forcefully.
Which, yeah, hurts a little, but I’m not about to say so. Even in my head — make that, especially not in my head.
Talk of love makes my heart ache for Raef. I stroke the edge of the mirror, and it quivers. Maybe it — she? — likes being touched.
I can see neglect being a problem in this place, and consideration for another person’s feelings…Grey.
“What?” he grumbles.
“Nothing.” It’s weird how he can pick up my internal talk. I’ll have to watch what I’m thinking. “Is telepathy normal down here?”
“What do you mean?”
Like when I talk to you inside my head?
“No. That is definitely not normal.” His eyes narrow. “But then, neither are you.”
Was that an insult?
Shaking his head, Grey steps close, towering over me, while he turns his glower up to full throttle. “It’s very difficult…” He runs a finger over my chin and along my jaw. “Not to do this.” His mouth lands on mine.
Lust, he said. Seems the Underworld has a few perks.