The cave wound upward through the earth, and Pollux grasped Castor’s hand as he led him across the uneven ground. Cerberus’s snarls echoed through the tunnel, and though Pollux would’ve rather let the hellhound feast on his own innards than admit it, fear coursed through him like adrenaline. Hades’s massive three-headed guardian of the Underworld couldn’t hurt the dead, but Pollux wasn’t afraid of a dog. He was afraid of the god who trailed him.
So maybe breaking his brother out of the Underworld wasn’t exactly the smartest idea Pollux had ever had, but the council hadn’t given him much of a choice.
“Come on,” he said, pulling his brother’s arm. “It isn’t far now.”
“You said that three miles ago.” Castor stumbled, but Pollux was there in an instant, pulling him back to his feet.
“And now we’re three miles closer than we were before. Stop complaining and start running.”
They staggered through the cave together, and behind them, Cerberus’s growls grew louder. Neither brother said a word as they climbed, drawing closer to safety with each step. One foot in front of the other, again and again and again. That was all they could do.
Cerberus was gaining on them. His breath blew warm on the back of Pollux’s neck, and it reeked of bone and blood and death. Pollux urged his brother forward, half dragging him now. At last the darkness gave way to a faint glow, and his heart pounded. So close. So damn close. Just a little farther and—
Castor cried out.
Whirling around, Pollux’s insides turn to ice. Cerberus loomed behind them now, close enough to reach out and touch; and Castor’s leg was caught between his teeth. Didn’t matter that Castor couldn’t be injured, not when he was already technically dead. If they lingered too long, capture would mean proper death this time. And permanent separation.
Pollux didn’t think. Mustering all of the strength he had, he drew his arm back and punched the dog in the mouth. One more reason for Hades to hunt them down and skin them alive, but it did the trick. Cerberus whined and dropped Castor, and the dog pawed at his injured jaw while the other two heads growled.
“All right?” said Pollux, helping his brother up.
“I’m fine,” gasped Castor. “Did you just—”
“Yell at me later. Let’s go.”
The light grew stronger as the stench of Cerberus’s breath grew fainter. Finally, finally they reached the entrance to the cave, and Pollux whooped. They’d done it. They’d actually done it, and at last they were safe. Or at least what passed for it.
Together he and his brother burst into the daylight, and he squinted, blinded by the sun. The leaves rustled in the summer breeze, and Pollux’s heart soared. It didn’t matter that he’d gone against the council of Olympians. It didn’t matter that by doing so, he’d severed all ties to his father. It didn’t matter that they would be hunted for as long as they remained on the run.
What mattered was that he and Castor were together, and nothing, not even the gods, not even the cruelest destiny the Fates could imagine, would break them apart again. Not as long as Pollux had a breath in his body.
Glancing over his shoulder, he spotted Hades’ silhouette among the cavern rocks. The surface wasn’t his realm. He couldn’t pursue them out here. But one toe back inside that cave, and they would be his.
The wind grew still. Without warning, a bolt of lightning sizzled through the air, striking a tree only feet from where they stood. Castor jumped backward toward the mouth of the cave, toward Hades and eternal separation, but Pollux pulled his brother back into the open. He would have rather endured a thousand lightning strikes than willingly return his brother to their captor.
A great thunderclap echoed through the endless sky, rattling Pollux’s teeth, and they exchanged a look. Zeus never missed. He too knew the consequences of stepping back into that cave, and there was no doubt in Pollux’s mind that the King of the Gods would stop at nothing to defend his pride.
Taking heed of his father’s warning, Pollux grasped Castor’s hand and ran.
Six months. One hundred and eighty-four days. That was how long I had to stay away from Eden, where Henry, my brand-new husband, waited for me to return in September. Looking forward, it seemed like forever, and the idea of being away from him for so long made me ache.
But I hadn’t had much of a choice. Six months on, six months off. That was the arrangement we’d made when I’d agreed to stay at his manor in Eden in exchange for him keeping my sick mother alive. Crazy as it sounded, Henry was really Hades, God of the Underworld, and he was more than capable of it.
I didn’t regret our deal, but after six months of falling in love with him, facing another half a year without him felt like torture. But he’d insisted, and in the end, it was probably for the best that I had a chance to step away from my immortal life and remember what it was like to be human.
During the first seventy-two hours away, I didn’t have much time to miss him, mostly because I hadn’t gone alone. My best friend, James, had agreed to come with me, and together we’d set off for Greece. He wasn’t Henry, but he knew exactly how to cheer me up and get me excited about our summer.
James had our whole trip planned out, and on the plane from New York City to Athens, I’d daydreamed about what the next six months would bring. Tours of ancient ruins. Mouthwatering Greek cuisine. Entire days spent lounging on the beach. And no longer having to look over my shoulder, wondering when someone was going to try to kill me.
Getting lost in a forest our first day there was the last thing I’d had in mind.
“You seriously have no idea where we are?” I said, trudging after James. Three hours after we’d split from our tour group, we were still wandering through the woods outside of Athens, more lost than I’d ever been in my life. James, however, looked like we were taking a light stroll, his hands shoved in his pockets as he admired the scenery.
“Not a clue,” he said lightly, and there was something in his voice that made me think otherwise. I had no choice but to follow him though.
“If this is some trick to get me alone,” I muttered. Couldn’t put it past him—had I failed my tests in Eden, James would have replaced Henry as Lord of the Underworld. And even though I wouldn’t have had any memory of my time in Eden, I was certain he had his eye on replacing him as my husband as well. Henry had won that fight, but from the looks James had given me ever since, it was clear he didn’t realize the contest was over. Or that there’d never been one to begin with. I was Henry’s, plain and simple.
James grinned. “You really think I’d do that?”
“Yes, even though you know damn well I wouldn’t kiss you for anything.”
He placed his hand over his heart with mock hurt. “You wound me, Kate.”
“If you don’t find civilization within the next fifteen minutes, I’ll show you what a wound really is.”
He flung his arm around my shoulders, and I tried to shrug it off to no avail. “You need to learn to take in the scenery. Enjoy the little things in life. We’ve got six months before we need to be anywhere.”
“Yeah, and by the time September rolls around, I’d like to not still be wandering,” I muttered. “Seriously, James, if you think I’m sleeping on the forest floor—”
A twig snapped nearby. James stopped, forcing me to as well, and his gaze darted around the surrounding trees. I frowned. It wasn’t like there was anyone else out here. And if there was, terrific, maybe they’d know a way back.
James shushed me, and I glared at him. His brow was furrowed, but as the seconds passed, his worry gave way to a boyish grin. “Excellent,” he whispered, and I rolled my eyes.
“If you don’t tell me what’s going on right this minute, I swear I’ll—”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
That gruff voice didn’t belong to James. I jumped, and a half na**d young man stepped out from behind a thick trunk. His dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and I could’ve done laundry on his abs.
I blushed. I’d been married to Henry all of three days, and already I was drooling after the shirtless locals. No way in hell was I lasting six whole months without him. Maybe James would take me back to Eden early, if we ever found civilization again.
I tried to step forward to greet him, but James’s grip on my shoulders tightened, holding me back. “Pollux,” said James with a nod. “It’s been a while. I see you still haven’t found a shirt.”
Pollux. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. Another god? From the looks of him, it wouldn’t have surprised me.
“Hermes. It’s Lux now,” he said in his heavily accented voice. Most of it was English, but there were hints of other , ats of oplaces, too. And was it my imagination, or was his jaw clenched?
“Ah, so you got the memo as well,” said James. “Not that Lux blends in much better than Pollux, but whatever tickles your fancy. I’m called James now.”
“And I’m Kate,” I said. “What’s going on? How do you two know each other?”
Lux eyed me. “Long story. I’m only going to ask you once—piss off.”
James’s grin faded. “Not exactly asking now, is it?”
“Come on, let’s go,” I said, tugging on his arm. “Clearly he doesn’t want to be bothered.”
“No, we’re not going,” said James. “What the hell’s going on, Lux? Where have you been the past three thousand years?”
Right. Definitely a god. Lux growled in the back of his throat. “I like you, James. Don’t make me do something I’ll regret to your pretty little friend.”
Pretty little friend? Who did he think he was? Apparently it touched a nerve for James as well, because he snapped, “You can’t do a damn thing to me, and you know it. On the other hand, all I have to do is let the right people know you’re here, and you’re a dead man.”
Whatever line James was toeing, he might as well have taken a giant leap across it. Lux snarled and flew toward us so fast that I didn’t have time to move away. James managed to push me aside a fraction of a second before Lux tackled him, and the pair of them hit the ground hard.
“Stop it!” I screeched. Lux had James pinned with his knees, and his fists were a blur as he beat the unholy snot out of him. James struggled against him, but he wasn’t a fighter, not like Lux clearly was. Could gods hurt other gods? I had no idea.
In a fit of desperation, I grabbed Lux’s ponytail and yanked back hard. It was enough to throw him off balance, and he hissed, scrambling back to his feet.
He advanced toward me, and I stumbled backward. Terrific. Not only did shirtless guy like to fight, but he had no qualms about hitting a girl. Which would’ve been fine, except the only self-defense I knew was a knee to the boy parts and running away as fast as I could.
“Lux.” A quiet voice echoed through the trees as if the wind were carrying it, and Lux stopped dead in his tracks. He didn’t take his eyes off me though, and had he not been half a step away from pummeling me, I wouldn’t have minded. They were a beautiful shade of brown. Pity he had such a temper.
“I told you not to leave,” said Lux through gritted teeth. “Go back to the cottage.”
“They’re not here to hurt us.” Another young man stepped through the trees, and I did a double take. He and Lux were identical, down to their worn jeans and rebellion against shirts. “Let them go.”
Lux’s eyes searched mine, as if he were certain he’d be able to find some sort of malicious intent by staring me down. However, James chose that moment to sit up and groan, and Lux broke away from me, positioning himself between James and his brother. Apparently I wasn’t so much of a threat after hreat aall. “They shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither should you,” muttered James. He stumbled to his feet, and to my relief, he looked completely unharmed. Just dazed. “What are you two doing back in Greece?”
The brother who hadn’t beat James into pulp shrugged. “You know how it is. Hide in the last place they’d expect. We’re just passing through anyhow.”
“And we’re leaving now.” Lux took his brother’s arm, but he stood his ground, refusing to budge. “Casey, let’s go.”
James snorted. “Casey and Lux? Really trying to hide your identities there, aren’t you?”
Lux glared at him, and I linked my elbow with James’s. “Don’t antagonize him,” I muttered. “Let’s just go, all right?”
“I’m very sorry for my brother’s behavior,” said Casey from the other side of a growling Lux. “Our interactions with the other members of the council have been less than pleasant, but James has been good to us. Please—night’s about to fall. Stay with us. As an apology.”
“Thought you had to go,” said James as Lux spun around to face his brother. Before he could open his mouth, however, Casey gave him a steely look.
“We were in the process of sitting down to dinner when Lux sensed you coming. As long as the other members of the council aren’t with you, we can afford to stay the night like we’d planned.”
I glanced toward the dusky purple sky. “How far are we from Athens?”
“Half a day’s walk,” said Casey, and I groaned.
“James. You promised we weren’t far.”
“He knew we were here,” muttered Lux. “That’s why he dragged you out this far. To check on us.”