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Hades watched Lexi talk with Z in a private corner of the living room. She had changed into a simple ivory dress, and when she crossed her legs, the fabric struggled to cover her lap.

Since their interlude in the stable, Hades had been occupying his mind with mundane thoughts, like the souls that waited for him to return home, and arguing with Charon about hoarding the coins offered by the pious relatives of the deceased. He could not afford to dwell on the taste of Lexi's mouth or her supple flesh that beckoned him like spring flowers. Not until he got her alone again.

"What do you suppose they're talking about?" Lilith drew up beside him, a glass of red wine in her hand. Coming only to his shoulder, Lilith was a woman of delicate features akin to a nymph, with blue eyes and light brown hair that framed her head in loose waves. Hades had no trouble seeing why Z had taken her as a consort.

"I expect they're having their first father-daughter chat," he said. "Based on Z's scowl, I would say Lexi is making some good arguments."

"Zeus does not like to lose a debate. And when he does, he never admits to it. But he has a compassionate side that I hope Lexi will remember as she sees him through new eyes."

Hades nodded, acknowledging her insight and willingness to share. She had taken the words right out of his mouth. "Have you and Lexi had a chance to talk about it?"

"No, but I told her I am ready whenever she is. I owe her a heartfelt apology, although she isn't the only one who deserves that." Lilith's gaze drifted to her husband, who stood chatting with a couple Hades met the first night. Their son had made no effort to speak to Lexi, spending most of his time with his nose planted in a book, which suited Hades just fine.

"I take it your husband is unaware of Lexi's true parentage," he said gently.

Her eyes swept the floor before she answered. "I think Charles suspects Zeus and I have shared our bed, but he and Dion know nothing about Lexi's paternity. It's difficult to maintain intimacy when your spouse sleeps six hundred miles away," she added, attempting to assuage her guilt, no doubt.

"Try living a world away from your mate for nine months of the year."

Lilith lifted her gaze, taking a moment to study him. "Yes, that must be very challenging for you and Persephone. Why did you choose this weekend to finally visit us here?"

Her bold inquiry did not surprise him. The woman possessed intelligence and a reasonable knowledge of the gods. Z would argue that she lived like one, so she likely had a grasp of the situation. But how forthcoming should he be? She was still a mother.

"I have been interested in meeting Lexi for some time. I make it a point to visit every demigod once they become aware of their status. Hers was a special case though, because Z chose to keep her in the dark. I did not come here to spoil the surprise, in case you're wondering, but I would like to think her awakening was well timed."

Lilith rested her mouth on the edge of her glass and spoke over it. "Z was adamant about keeping the secret. The few times I questioned his intentions, he shut me down without explanation. I didn't want to believe he was doing it out of selfishness." She switched her gaze to search his face. "I know you care for Lexi. I've seen the way you look at her. There's emotion in your eyes. Contrary to what Zeus believes about your motives, there is more going on between you and Lexi than simple attraction."

Although Hades would not characterize his attraction to Lexi as simple, it would not be appropriate to point that out to her mother. "Yes, I have come to care for Lexi. Her passion for life rivals any god. She brings out the best in those around her. And she speaks her mind without reservation. All very desirable qualities."

Lilith bobbed her head. Then he heard her breath hitch. "You do realize Lexi is..." She paused again to tug at her lip, and he knew why.

"I assure you, Lilith, I will not take advantage of Lexi's inexperience. It will be up to her to decide where we take our relationship from here."

A smile swiftly claimed her lips, and she looked almost wistful. "I don't know why, but I have never doubted your integrity, Hades. Zeus can keep his long-standing grudges to himself. I like to go with my gut."

Hades lifted his flute of champagne in a salute. "I appreciate your trust. I don't receive much of it during the course of duties, and it's something I hope to repair with Lexi. She needs someone she can trust."

While Hades had not meant any harm by his words, Lilith reacted with a sober nod and a large swallow of wine. "For what it's worth, I think it's time Lexi put aside her novels and start experiencing romance for herself. Your brother is the reason she's been kept under heavy guard. He didn't want her fooling around with mortals he didn't approve of."

"That's standard protocol for the gods, actually."

"Yes, I know, but that doesn't make it fair. Lexi has risen to every challenge in her life, many of them given by Zeus. In my mind, she became a woman a long time ago. She needs experience navigating the waters of a relationship. And who better to challenge her than a handsome god?"

Lilith left Hades with a pointed eyebrow lift, walking over to join her husband. She had all but given Hades permission to usher Lexi into womanhood. At least, that's how he heard it. She did say handsome god, and he'd been known to turn a head or two. It seemed the only obstacle remaining between him and Lexi was her hot-headed father.

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