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Hades watched from the window as Hecate's chariot drew closer, carrying his precious Lexi. As they landed at the foot of the bridge, he noticed something else had traveled with them, a large object covered in a cloth and wrapped with rope. His surprise, perhaps. He hurried down the stairs as Sella shouted up the stairwell.

"Your grace! Lady Lexi has arrived! She and Hecate are at the foot of the... Oh, here you are, sire." Sella bowed, her head lifted high enough to express her adoration through lively green eyes. "Please, pardon my shouting. I was preparing to meet Lexi and Hecate and thought you..."

"That won't be necessary, Sella. I will meet them." When Hades noticed Sella's gaze lower to the floor, he tapped her on the back as he swung open the door. "It's looks as if I will need admittance for a large package, if you wouldn't mind holding the door for us."

Hades waited for Sella's face to brighten before he hurried across the bridge. Hecate seemed to be admonishing Lexi about something, which didn't surprise him. Admonishing was her specialty.

"My love, it's so wonderful to see you." Lexi greeted Hades with a hug that had him struggling for purchase on the stones. "I hate being away from you for so long. It's like I've been holding my breath."

"Speaking of breath, you're making it difficult for me to take one."

Lexi loosened her grip, smirking unapologetically as she kissed him.

"I assume this is my gift." Hades gestured to the object still ensconced inside the chariot.

"Oh, yes, but it's really heavy. I hadn't worked out how to get it into the palace and up the stairs to the dome room." Lexi bit her lip, looking at Hades sheepishly. "I was thinking we could ask Lars to help us."

She gestured across the field to the forest where, sure enough, Lars stood in the same place Hades had seen him earlier that day. Despite the happy mood Lexi's arrival had instilled in him, Hades felt his blood pressure rise.

"I don't need a minotaur's help," he snapped. "I am a god with the power to manipulate my surroundings, and I could lift this damn chariot if I chose to."

Lexi's mouth popped open then closed again. "I didn't mean to insinuate... I'm sorry. I forgot you possessed that gift. You don't wield your powers very often." She lowered her head, and Hades immediately felt like a fool.

"Don't listen to me, Lexi," he said as he swept her into his arms again. "It has been a long, troublesome day and I have missed you immeasurably."

"Troublesome? What has been troublesome?" Lexi's inquiry had Hades finding himself in the beam of two pairs of curious eyes.

"Nothing that can't wait until we've taken dinner and retired for the evening. Hecate, I trust you spent a pleasant day with the privileged gods of Olympus."

Hecate's mouth quirked and she eyed him critically, most likely in response to his resentful tone, which he was finding increasingly difficult to monitor. "Yes, it was quite enlightening, and I am anxious to return to my humble home, which I prefer over that of the privileged gods." She turned and pointed to the object crowding her chariot, and Hades made haste to remove it before he put himself in danger of receiving a lecture.

Hades had an idea the object he guided up six flights of stairs was a marble statue, and while he maintained the expression and demeanor of a god in complete control, the last few steps leading to the dome room tested his gifts and his fortitude. The damn thing was heavier than he expected, or maybe the day had exhausted him more than he realized. Once the beastly thing had been placed in front of the northern facing windows, Hades slumped into the chaise, holding his hand out to Lexi, who quickly huddled under his arm, panting into his chest as if she had been the one to carry it.

"Was it terribly heavy?" she said.

"I have been challenged with worse. Once, I was required to lift a vehicle to perform a rescue. Fortunately, all parties involved were so grateful, they didn't question my ability to accomplish the feat."

"You are truly compassionate," she said as she kissed his chin. "Hades, I'm sorry for suggesting Lars help you. Sometimes I forget I'm in love with a god who can conjure fire and build dams to save damsels in distress. You're the most humble god of them all."

Hades pressed his lips to her forehead, savoring her lemon verbena-scented warmth. "I love you too, and I'm sorry for reacting so petulantly. You didn't deserve that."

Lexi lifted her head, forcing him to meet her inquiring gaze. "Do you want to tell me what has you feeling petulant?"

Hades didn't want to revisit his exhausting day just yet, so he opted to delay it. "Can I see my gift first? I have been waiting patiently all day for this wonderful surprise."

"Of course. Perhaps, it will cheer you." Lexi hopped off the chaise and walked over to the object, making swift work of untying the ropes until the cloth hung loosely around it. As she gripped the fabric, she suddenly appeared reluctant to reveal what was underneath. Was she worried he wouldn't like it? All the gifts she'd given him had been meaningful and heartfelt, especially the gifts she offered him in the privacy of their chamber.

With a resolute intake of breath, Lexi pulled the cloth away, unveiling a semi-nude statue of... of herself. Hades swallowed as he stood from the chaise to take a closer look. The sculpture was exquisite, a marvel of craftsmanship, and the detail left no doubt it was Lexi immortalized in stone, but it was the shocking nature of the pose that had his pulse racing, the way her hip turned forward suggestively, a thin sash suspended temptingly in front of her womanhood, one breast completely exposed. The expression on her face was one of seduction and lust. Hades swallowed again then attempted to find his voice.

"This is the work of Emanuel, I presume?" His words came out low and accusatory, causing Lexi to blanch.

"Yes." She offered nothing more, but she stiffened as if someone had a knife blade to her back.

"How many times did he see you in this state of undress?"

Her eyelids fluttered closed as she issued a long sigh that carried the inflection of regret. "Five or six."

Hades joined her in a sigh, but his was to calm his emotions, which stomped around like a disobedient child. "Has anyone else had the pleasure of seeing this piece?"

Lexi's bottom lip had begun to quiver, and she sucked on it as she answered. "Not until today. Emanuel kept it hidden beneath this tarp." She shook the cloth in her hand limply.

"Who else saw it?" Hades ground out the words like they were shards of glass, punishing him as he spoke.

"When I was arranging to have it delivered to the palace today, Poseidon walked into the workshop, but he only caught a glimpse before I covered it up."

"What was Poseidon doing in Emanuel's shop?" Hades raised his voice.

"He was helping me run my errands." Lexi lowered her voice.

"You're still letting him follow you around?" Hades' tone hardened.

"He's paying his penance for his poor judgement call." Lexi's tone softened.

"Do you really think Poseidon sees it as a penance, Lexi? You could be flogging him and he would enjoy it knowing your hands were at the end of the whip!"

Hades clenched his hands into fists as he glanced around for something to hit. He had allowed his anger to surge, and before he knew it, fire was spitting between his fingers, shooting sparks onto the floor. As he jumped out of the line of fire, Lexi threw the cloth and bolted for the door.

"If I had known you were this fucking jealous, I never would have commissioned the piece!" she growled. "Have you learned nothing over the past three years? I am not like them... like you!"

Snatching the handle, she swung the door open and let it slam against the wall, leaving Hades with words that stung worse than the sparks of his rage.


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