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Lexi couldn't keep her chin from trembling as she asked Luke to identify himself, while the names of Greek gods scrolled through her brain like a movie trailer. Was he Ares, god of war and bloodshed? That would be disturbing. Or Poseidon, god of the sea? Luke said he loved the ocean. Maybe he was a titan, like Mnemosyne.

"I am Zeus's brother, Hades."

Lexi held her breath to keep her body from shaking as an image of the god of the underworld scrolled past. The books portrayed him as a middle-aged bearded man with a two-pronged staff and a vicious three-headed dog. Despite his reputation, she didn't look away from him, even as his eyes lit up like the flames of a bonfire. She didn't want him to think she was afraid.

A fierce, demanding god was not the impression Lexi had of Luke Carrington. He was charming, witty, handsome... And he treated her like something precious, especially when he offered her his lips. Those smoldering lips. Why was Hades pursuing her? What did he hope to accomplish? Was this his sick way of getting off? Conquer the virgin then return to his palace of the damned? Was that why Uncle Z didn't want her around him? 

Lexi's brain raced as everything fell into place. Lady Twila and Sir Henry never invited anyone to their Italian manor because they didn't live in Italy. Nora didn't like to mix love and sex because that was the nature of gods. Was Lexi's horse, Zenith, an immortal equine, like Arion? Was that why he couldn't be tamed?

Heat radiated from Lexi's palms, and she realized her hands were clenched into fists. Uncle Z stood in front of her with his arms crossed over his chest, making it hard to see around him. But she already knew where the exit was.

"There is something else I need to tell you, Lexi," he said. "Then you can take your grievances out on Hades."

Her godfather's commanding tone silenced Lexi's thoughts. Not because he was Zeus, but because her entire body felt like jelly. Boiling hot jelly ready to explode all over the room. Uncle Z unfolded his arms and started pacing. Preparing a sermon, no doubt.

"Lexi, your parents do not own this estate. It has been placed in their name for legal purposes, but it belongs to the gods. Your family is one of many who have inhabited the home and tended it. Prior to you, the Evans family lived here. But after several generations, they chose to abandon their post. A most inconvenient circumstance."

Uncle Z's pacing had guided him across the room to where Luke sat in her dad's favorite reading chair. When he noticed this, he quickly spun around to head back the other way. "It is not easy to earn a mortal's trust. They are fearful and guarded, and they like their freedom. But so do the gods." He stopped in front of Lexi and swept his large arm around the room. "I ask you, have you not enjoyed the benefits of living with unlimited resources? The sea at your back door? A stable of horses? Delicious food and drink? And your parents... Have they not sent you to the best schools?"

"Of course. I live a blessed life," Lexi said, although she wasn't sure where her Uncle Z was headed with his speech. When was he going to tell her about this endowment? Was she inheriting the house? Had he pulled some strings at Oxford to get her admitted early? She held the second highest GPA in her class.

"I'm glad to hear you say that. All of this will continue to be yours if you agree to uphold the post of this estate and serve the gods as your parents have served us before you."

Lexi squinted up at her godfather as a feeling of foreboding came over her. "Did you say serve? As in, I can't go to college or pursue a career? Instead, I'll be living out my days in Nova Scotia working for the gods as a servant?"

Uncle Z looked affronted as he stared down his nose at her. "A very well-treated servant. And we prefer to use the term ambassador. The gods have spared no expense to give you and your family everything to enhance your life. Only a handful of mortals have access to such luxuries. And there is also the benefit of spending time in the presence of the gods." He smiled importantly at his comrades in arms. "We require this refuge to hide our identity. We cannot go waltzing into a resort without proper explanation, especially in these times of suspicion and distrust."

As soon as Uncle Z mentioned distrust, something clicked inside Lexi's brain, and she glanced at her mom, a mixture of anguish and pity rising in her throat like bile. "You've stayed here all these years letting your degree collect cobwebs while Dad enjoyed his career in Boston." Lexi pointed to a framed document bearing the name Lilith A. Reynolds-Maxwell, Masters Degree in Biomedical Engineering.

"That paper is just a reminder of what you could have accomplished if you hadn't agreed to serve the gods, isn't it?" Lexi pressed further, and when her mom offered a miserable nod, a violent rush of blood flooded her veins. Lexi turned on her dad. "Whose choice was it? Did you make the decision together, or was Mom guilted into agreeing because you already had your business established?"

"We both agreed, but I think your mother harbors a few regrets." He offered his lame explanation, looking just as miserable as her mom. "And it's not like she never gets to leave the house, Lexi. We have taken many family vacations over the years. You know that."

"A vacation is not a career. You, of all people, should know how important a sense of purpose is to a person. Dion and I have heard that speech a million times."

When Lexi glanced at Dion for validation, she found him standing half-hidden behind the drapes of the French doors, and something else clicked. "What about Dion? Is he being forced to abandon his career to serve champagne and cocktail weenies?"

No one spoke. In fact, everyone seemed to be interested in their shoes or the ceiling or their fingernails. Except Luke. He was watching Lexi intently, his eyes still glowing like gold coins.

"Lexi." Her dad's voice came out like a whisper. Quieter than she had ever heard it. "Your brother has to maintain the business when I'm gone. It's our responsibility to the shareholders to keep..."

"Fuck the shareholders!" Lexi yelled as she flew out of her seat, knocking knees with Nora on her way up. If she could spit fire, no one would be safe. "You're choosing your stupid shareholders over my life... my happiness... my dreams! Go to hell! All of you!"

Lexi stomped across the room, pushing open the French doors and wishing she had the strength to rip them off their hinges. The wind gusted, blowing her hair into her face as she turned to her slack-jawed audience. "I need to be alone. Don't anyone try to follow me."

"Lexi, darling," her mom called after her. "Consider the consequences of your actions."

Lexi stopped and spoke over her shoulder. "What's the point, Mom? It's time I stopped considering the fucking consequences."


PLAYLIST SONG: Wretches And Kings by Linkin Park







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