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Hades was thinking with his dick. It was the only explanation for allowing such a contemptible act to happen. How could he overlook this important detail? Would he ever earn Lexi's loyalty? Would he earn her forgiveness?

Dropping heavily to his knees, Hades gathered her hands in his own and gazed up into her liquid blue eyes, shiny with unshed tears. "My careless error is inexcusable. I would not blame you if you refused me and left my domain as punishment. No one would feel more pain than I. But, please know that I would never purposefully hurt you. I was caught up in the excitement of having you to myself. There is so much I want to share with you."

Lexi put her finger to his lips. "Everything is happening so fast, we're bound to have lapses in judgment. Is there somewhere else private we can go? This is a big place."

With his guilt weighing him down like a slab of marble, Hades stood and tucked Lexi into his arms, loving her more with every moment that passed. He had behaved selfishly, and she forgave him without judgment. Even the wisest gods could learn from her compassion. "You are a merciful angel and a goddess of the highest caliber."

"You might rescind that statement when I beat you at croquet again."

He chuckled into her hair then inhaled deeply, filling his senses with her unspoiled scent. Could he convince her never to bathe? A knock intruded on his musings, and he called to the door. "Come."

Fiona walked in carrying the bottle of wine he requested and two glasses, all balanced effortlessly on a tray. "Your wine, Lord Hades."

"Thank you, Fiona. Please, deliver it to the north tower bedroom. Lexi and I are relocating there."

As expected, Fiona's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "The north tower? Will that suit your needs? It hasn't been used in..."

"I have already sent Blythe ahead to ready the room," he interrupted. "And I'm asking the same of you. Lexi and I will wander the castle to give you more time."

"As you wish. The room does have a lovely view of the eastern gorge." Fiona bowed her head and backed out of the room, her eyes flitting to Lexi as she closed the door on a worried expression.

"Okay, I'm intrigued," Lexi said. "Why does everyone freak out when you mention the north tower? Will I find a magical rose under glass there?"

Hades knew the question would come up sooner or later. Of course, he wished for later. "If it's roses you wish, I can have them planted outside your room. There's space on the balcony for an arbor."

Lexi smiled. "That was a joke, but I didn't expect you to get it."

"And I was evading your question. The north tower bedroom is the one I shared with the last goddess I convinced to stay with me. Her name is Clary. You will not find her in any of the mortal texts. She is a demigod, like you. Daughter of Mnemosyne."

Lexi reacted as predictably as the nymphs. "Holy smokes. Nora's daughter? But I don't remember her mentioning a child named Clary. Although, now that I think of it, she rarely talked about her family. She just said she had kids spread out all over." After a moment of contemplation, she slipped her hand into his, her grip as sure as her gaze. "We all have paths to follow, and mine has led me to you. You have me, body and soul, and I have no intention of abandoning you."

"Spoken like a true poet." Hades grinned to cover his emotions, which had been simmering close to the surface since their arrival, and he was sure Lexi noticed the moisture building in his eyes. "I hope your feelings for me never die. Forever is an eternally long time."

Lexi tugged him closer and brought her mouth to his ear. "Then why don't you show me what I have to look forward to?"

With his heart thrumming in his chest, Hades led Lexi out of his chamber and away from the painful reminder that she was not the first to steal his heart. He guided her through the main hall, talking ceaselessly to distract her from the images of Persephone.

"My palace was built by the Titans before the war. There were fewer gods back then, and the process was long."

"But everyone in Olympus has godly powers. Didn't that speed things up?"

"Not every gift is useful for building. Some are better for tearing down."

"Oh, so I figure you didn't ask Zeus to help you out." Lexi tweaked her eyebrows playfully.

"Z has spent little time in the underworld since the war. When he decided to release Cronus from Tartarus, he gave the order to me and I carried it out."

Feeling impatient, and not wishing to linger on his tumultuous past, Hades tugged on Lexi's hand, thinking about his future and the promise of lemon verbena. When they finally reached the north tower bedroom, his arousal was nearly full, but he cringed when he found the door had been propped open with a large vase, specifically a twelfth century Chinese artifact. The nymphs had used it as a door stopper.

When they entered, he found Blythe and her comrades scuttling about the room, sweeping dust off the floor and tucking fresh sheets into the mattress. Fiona was the first to notice them and hurried over.

"Does the young goddess wish to take in the fragrant waters of a bath? We have oils of rose, lilac, juniper..."

"No, thank you," Hades said. "I prefer Lexi to smell exactly the way she does right now. However, if you could locate some lemon verbena oil, I would be exceedingly grateful." His gaze flicked to Lexi, hoping he had not disappointed her. There would be plenty of time for baths. She reassured him with an indifferent shrug.

"I will personally see to it," Fiona said, her eyes twinkling with purpose as she flitted off in exuberant fashion, reminding Hades why he loved the forest nymphs. He had always thought of them as family more than staff, and although the gods of Olympus regularly used nymphs as consorts, Hades found their minds too flighty for engaging in something as serious as intimacy.

Sella was next to bustle toward them, her green eyes lit like Tiffany glass. She pointed at the bed recently covered in fresh, white linens. Not the most appropriate color, considering what Hades planned to do with Lexi on them, but he was thankful his emotions had not been triggered by the blue satin headboard and damask drapery. Apparently, his heart had healed enough.

"I laid a nightgown out for the young goddess," Sella said. "I hope it is to your liking." She offered Lexi a cheerful smile, which Lexi returned without pause.

"Thank you. The room is lovely, and everyone has been kind and accommodating. Excuse me if I seem a little overwhelmed."

Sella gestured to the wine bottle sitting on the table. "A glass of wine will set you right. And if that doesn't work, we have many herbal teas. Let me know if I can assist you in any way. My name is Sella."

Sella skipped out of the room, which left only Blythe, who walked up to them and folded into a deep curtsy. Being a transplant from the palace of the gods, Blythe never lost the ingrained formalities of Olympus. "I am very glad you are here, Lexi. It has been many summers since I've seen Lord Hades look so happy. I hope you will be happy here, too."

Hades watched anxiously as Blythe waltzed over to the priceless vase and dragged it into the hallway, allowing the door to shut. When he turned to Lexi, she was engrossed in the details of the room, no doubt struggling with the enormity of her decision. Was she regretting her choice?

He perished the thought and crossed the room to the table, inspecting the wine bottle. The vintage was just as he requested, and the bottle had been uncorked, allowing the wine to breathe. As he filled the glasses, he smiled at his good fortune. The nymphs, with their constant fussing, were sure to make Lexi feel at home whenever his duties called him away.

"Try this," Hades said as he handed a glass to Lexi. "You'll find it rivals any other vintage of its kind, irrespective of what Dionysus thinks. Consider this a first in a series of favorites I plan to share with you."

Lexi appeared to return to herself as she took his offering, and she tapped his glass in a toast. "Here's to favorites. And, to unexpected love."

Hades drank deeply, fortifying himself with the potent elixir as he stared into Lexi's eyes. He had been there many times, gazing into the face of a desirable female, wanting to possess her, but it felt different with Lexi. There was more at stake than a satisfying sexual experience. There was the potential for lifelong love, and he planned to court her, to woo her, to cultivate a relationship that would carry them through eternity. Starting now, he would make every moment count.

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