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Hades waited at the foot of the palace bridge. Years of practice had taught him patience, but it became particularly challenging when Lexi was involved. The love of his life and future wife tended to push the limits of his comfort level, especially when it came to the minotaurs. She had spent more than two years visiting the encampments and establishing a genial relationship with them. This fact did not alleviate Hades' worries, however. The sky was changing fast with no sign of Lexi or her horse.

As he waited, Hades occupied himself with magic, conjuring three balls of flame and setting about to juggle them. He often entertained himself this way at the gates. Some of the souls enjoyed the unexpected form of reception, complimenting him on his skill in between inquiries about how they got there. Through his swiftly moving hands, Hades saw three figures emerge from the forest. Two were clearly bestial, one a horse and one a minotaur, and the third was his beloved Lexi, dressed in her riding gear. But why was she not riding?

Snuffing the flames, Hades walked across the field to meet the trio, reassuring himself that the smile on Lexi's face meant he had no need to worry. Jackie O was the only member of the group who appeared uneasy, jerking her head up and down and forcing Lexi to fist the reins close to the horse's neck.

"Good evening, my lord." Lexi offered her formal greeting as she reached out with her free arm to squeeze his hand tightly. "I apologize if I kept you waiting. The time got away from me, and Lars insisted on escorting me and Jackie O to the palace due to the late hour."

She turned to the minotaur and thanked him for his assistance with a series of clicks, placing her hand on her heart as she bowed. Lars returned the gesture, and Hades swore he saw the minotaur's thick lips curve into a smile. The beast then turned to Hades, bowing in a declaration of respect. Hades inclined his head in return, after which the minotaur took his leave. As Hades watched Lars retreat into the forest, he felt another squeeze on his hand.

"I had hoped Lars would shake your hand," Lexi said. "We've been working on that as a proper greeting to the gods, as well as using the title 'your grace'. I think you intimidate him."

"I intimidate him? He stands two heads taller than me." Hades pulled Lexi in for a kiss, the moment he'd been waiting for since he last held her. The scent of her remained the same, although somewhat hidden beneath the heady musk of the minotaurs. "Lars is the minotaur you have been grooming to introduce to the council, am I right? The son of the fallen leader?"

"Yes. He's a quick study and eager to please. I think the gods will be impressed with him once he's ready."

Lexi smiled as she glanced wistfully in the direction Lars had disappeared. Hades was all too familiar with that look, and he hoped she wouldn't be disappointed if the council offered a less than enthusiastic greeting to the minotaur. Jackie O snorted into Hades' hair and he patted her cheek.

"Hello to you too, Jackie O. You appear to be getting along with the local fauna."

Lexi chuckled. "Oh, she hates going to the encampments, but I've been insisting on it. I don't want her to be afraid of her neighbors."

"A prudent course of action," he said as he circled her waist with his arm. "Shall we retire to the castle, my love? Fiona is fretting over the soufflé. She is worried you will not be pleased with it."

"Fiona knows I love her soufflés. I don't know what she's worried about."

"I think it is because you took ill after eating her crepes this morning."

Lexi tsked but offered nothing more as she and Jackie O allowed Hades to lead them home. He had his own theory about why Lexi had trouble keeping her breakfast down, but he refused to speculate out loud. He would wait for Lexi to voice her theory when she was ready to do so.

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