Walking to the mystery location was probably the easiest thing I’ve done since I arrived in Hell. No one dared bother me despite what I was wearing but it was most likely because of Luca’s presence. Gang activity was booming, though Luca didn’t pay it any mind unless they got close to me. If they dared more than a glance at me, Luca would narrow his eyes and they would scatter. They were breaking into stores, shattering glass windows, and spray painting even more surfaces. Their lewd artwork covered previous depictions of stabbings, mass graves, and sex. Some of them were firing handguns into the air and I flinched every time, screams and manic laughter echoing throughout the cement buildings.
This sector was more like how I had imagined Hell to me.
Luca laughed at my side and wrapped his arm around me. “What’s the matter, princess? Not used to a little gun fire?”
“Not at all. I live in Pride, remember? The safest place in Hell.” I rolled my eyes and almost smiled but another gunshot and the following scream erupted nearby. I jumped and glared at Luca before he could laugh again.
How could I ever get used to something like this?
We arrived at another nondescript building in his sector. I think it might have been gray brick once upon a time, but it was so covered with graffiti, I wasn’t sure. There were a few blacked-out windows and I couldn’t tell if they were boarded from the inside or not. It seemed vacant, excluding the man standing outside that was chain smoking cigarettes. I watched him put one out on the side of the building when he was finished with it and light another after he shook it out of the carton.
The intimidating bouncer stood in front of the door and bowed when he saw Luca, but gave me the once over. “I don’t recognize this one.” He crossed his massive arms over his chest, flashing me tattoos of barely clothed women and ghastly skeletons.
“She’s new,” Luca replied smoothly, wrapping his arm around me possessively. “But it doesn’t matter, does it? She’s with me.”
“Of course, my lord.” The bouncer bowed again and opened the door for us.
It must be nice ruling Hell and have everyone bow down to your feet. I was so envious of his confidence, his power, his lack of fear, and the respect that was given to him. What was it even like not being afraid of dark alleys and people who look at you for a second too long? What was it like to have those things be afraid of you?
Luca led me inside, which I was grateful for because it was very dark and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by tripping over things. Only one fluorescent light worked but it flickered in and out above our heads. We looked unearthly pale in the faint blue light that cast black shadows across our features, the planes and angles of Luca’s face even clearer. The light caused us to be plunged into darkness repeatedly. Like a strobe light, everything moved in jumping frames. We stole kisses in the darkness, with flashes of white smiles and blue skin. “Sorry about that. Lucrative business, this one. The bouncers are very selective.”
“What is a lucrative business? Why am I here?” I said in a harsh whisper, trying to mask my fear. “You should invest in more light bulbs for your sector.”
“You’re here because I brought you and I’m here because I have to be.” He said with certainty like that was the end of the conversation.
We went down a flight of creaking stairs and he led me down a hallway before opening the door at the end for me. Light and soft rock music spilled into the dark hallway. I caught glimpses of women in dresses and men in suits.
“Wow, didn’t know Sector Violence had it in them.” I joked under my breath.
Luca rolled his eyes. “There’s a lot of things people don’t know about this place. About all the sectors, actually.”
I slid up to him and looked into his eyes with a smirk before I kissed him. It was a long kiss that both of us thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t need to worry about my lipstick because I hadn’t reapplied it yet, but I had slid the tube into my cleavage before leaving. “Do tell.”
“Some other day.” He smiled and placed a lighter kiss on my lips, motioning forward. “After you, my lady.”
“Luca using manners?” I asked, teasing while putting more lipstick back on and moving past him. “Ohh, do it more often. Gives me the chills.”
I heard the door close right as I felt Luca’s hands slide down my arms slowly. His breath ruffled my hair as he leaned down and whispered, “There’s a lot of other things I could do that would give you the chills.”
His proximity prevented me from spitting out any witty comebacks, so I had to settle with the lame and not at all sarcastic, “I’m sure.”
Luca pressed his smile of victory into my neck.
“I can’t believe you’re making a scene.” I mocked what he had said at the arena and blushed. Everyone’s eyes had settled on us when we entered the room. “Please tell me what we’re doing here. This is just some party.”
“You’re here to socialize or do whatever women do and I’m here on business.” His gray eyes swept over the people in attendance.
I was annoyed with his remark. “That was pretty sexist. What? Am I just made for pointless chit chat and arm candy? If you think so, I can leave right now.”
“You can be a part of this if you feel so adamantly about it.” He looked at me with amusement. “Now, I have to socialize. I have to be somewhat respectable for these people.”
“You? Respectable?” I let out a small laugh.
“I have to show my authority or these people would start to undermine me at a moment’s notice. You can’t trust anyone here, not even for a second.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Even me?”
“Especially you, dangerous woman.” He ducked closer to me, a very personal and public display of affection. People could have been watching but I didn’t care when I felt his breath on my cheek. “You could ruin me.” He meant it as a compliment and I was very pleased. “I’ll come get you when it’s time.”
I hated to admit it but I was much more amenable to him now, even as he pulled away from me and regained a profession and stiff stance. “Would you like anything from the bar?”
“Just a bourbon, thanks.” He didn’t even look at me because he was busy surveying the people who were here and sounded very preoccupied.
I went to the bar and ordered his drink and a mimosa for me. I waited there for several moments, trying to ground myself. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be around people while I was with Luca if he wanted to act that way. I understood that he had an image to uphold, a sector to rule, and he wouldn’t act very kind to me in public.
What was happening between us was just some temporary thing, a fling, and it would pass, I tried to tell myself silently.
Some people came to the bar and stood beside me, ordering. I didn’t pay them any mind until I heard, “Oh, I just love your dress!”
I looked over at the woman and smiled. “Thank you.”
She had a hardened look about her, with the tattoos, piercings, and short hair. She was slim and tall, and I could see the lean muscles flexing under her tattooed skin. Despite looking very intimidating and generally masculine, she was in a beautiful dress and wearing expertly applied makeup. “Where did you get it?”
“I’m not sure. It was a gift.” I glanced down at my dress and ran my finger down the champagne flute nervously.
“Classy but very daring.”
“Thanks again.” I stuck out my hand awkwardly. “What’s your name?”
“Sam.” She didn’t offer a last name but shook my hand instead. “Yours?”
“Oh, you’re the infamous Persephone Flemming?” She looked surprised.
I slid closer to her and lowered my voice. “Be honest, how the hell does everyone know me?”
She stared at me for a moment, apparently disbelieving what I had just said. “You’re telling me you don’t know?”
“Well, there’s been tons of rumors flying around about you. Not sure if they’re true or not, but your name is on everyone’s lips.”
“How about you tell me rumors and I’ll tell you if they’re true or not?” I offered. I wanted to know how everyone knew me.
“You were offered a choice to choose your sector.”
“That was in front of over two hundred other people. That went around fast.” She thought for a moment. “You chose Pride, right? Why are you here?”
“Yes, and not entirely sure. It’s complicated.” I muttered to myself. “Any more rumors?”
“Of course, another one is that you’ve openly defied the royals at welcoming parties and such.”
“And I clearly see you lived to tell the tale.” Her eyes shined with amusement. “Another one is that you’re Lucielle’s favorite, after her second in command… Oh, what’s his name?” Her brows furrowed as she thought. “Michael something.”
“Michael Knight?” I supplied worriedly.
“Yes! That’s it!”
What? My stomach dropped. Michael was Lucielle’s second in command? Was that the secret he had been trying to tell me? Obviously not, because this random girl in Sector Violence knew.
“There’s one about you being very pretty. I think that’s true. There’s also been word going around that you’re not to be harmed under highest penalty.”
“I’ve heard about it. Not sure why that happened.”
“You’re changing the game.”
I took a sip of my mimosa as a way to avoid speech until I thought of something to say. “I don’t want to change the game. I’m here just like everyone else. I did bad things.” I didn’t want to continue with where the conversation was heading. I never wanted to be special or different from these people. Being different meant you get noticed and getting noticed in Hell, I had decided, is a very bad thing. I turned around with both drinks and searched the room for Luca.
He was opposite of me, talking to a group of men standing under a balcony. They seemed to be arguing but I couldn’t hear anything from this distance and over the music. It didn’t seem like the argument held any true significance because Luca looked like he couldn’t care less. He must have sensed a gaze on him because he glanced towards me and his gray eyes caught mine.
I glanced down at the drinks in my hand as a way to tell him I got them.
He just barely smiled and the look sent a thrill through my body. He was so comfortable here, even when he stood with men somehow taller and more muscular than him. He had no reason to be afraid. He was a king, evident with the way he stood and how he held himself. I was filled with an odd feeling, which was most likely pride, and I smiled.
A king of Hell.
He excused himself from the circle and crossed the room towards me. He took the drink from my hands with a sinful smile. “Thank you, Persephone.”
He leaned in towards me and whispered into my ear. “It’s time. Come with me.”
Part of me wanted to inch away and ask what it was time for but I was the one who pushed him to include me so it was too late to back down now. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Plus, the smile he had flashed me and the things it implied made me take his hand and follow him willingly, without so much as a word.
Behind me, I heard Sam whisper, “So that’s why it’s complicated.”
Luca led me into another back room that was dim and filled with boxes. The same horrible flickering and buzz of a fluorescent light on the verge of burning out encompassed the room. He let go of my hand and I trailed behind him slowly. He entered a clearing where several men were already waiting. They looked impatient and a little too jumpy and suspicious for my liking but they bowed to him before looking at me.
“Who’s this?” One of the men, the one closest to Luca, asked.
“A new ally. It’s nothing to worry about. I thought I’d include her.” Luca sipped his bourbon. “Let’s get on with this, shall we?”
They all continued to stare at me and I could feel my heart start racing. What was this? All the sneaking around, going off into a dark basement, and the suspicion that was brought up just because I was in the room. It couldn’t possibly be good.
“Do you not trust my judgment?” Luca snapped and they all startled. “I do not have to authorize this. I can simply leave and you’d have to scrounge elsewhere.”
“Of course, Lord Luca.” A second party came in from the direction opposite of me. That man had a group of guys with him as well. “We trust your judgment unquestioningly. If you’re taking this woman as an ally and I’m assuming your second, then she must be invaluable. Easy on the eyes, too. That certainly helps.” He looked me over as he stood in the light with his hands crossed behind his back. “Welcome to the underworld, my dear.”
“This isn’t about the girl.” The first man growled. “We’re here on business. Bring in the crates.” He motioned to his men.
The second, more polite, man nodded to his people as well. “Bring them in.”
Both parties snapped into action, pulling large crates into the clearing. Luca positioned himself between the two groups. I took a huge gulp of my mimosa. It wasn’t strong enough for this occasion.
“Crack them open!” Luca ordered and they did what he said, pulling out pry bars and heaving the top of the wooden crates off.
The two leaders circled around and inspected what was inside the crates. The polite man reached into the crate and pulled out a military-grade rifle. I didn’t know my guns, but it looked very scary, especially when he tested the grip and the scope, aiming the gun directly at me.
“Keep your eyes where it counts, Phillip,” Luca warned. “Or you could lose them.”
“Of course.” He laughed. “I was just testing the scope.”
The other leader had grabbed several square packages and sniffed them. “Is this the product?”
“It’s exactly what you asked for.” Phillip set the gun back into the crate. “Do we have a deal?”
The nameless leader looked suspicious and rifled through the crate a little longer before pulling away with satisfaction. “We do.”
They walked towards each other and shook hands.
“Alight! Box everything up! We’re done here!” Phillip yelled and motioned for his men to do it. “Always a pleasure doing business with you, Lord Luca. I hope we’ll be seeing more of each other in the future.” He bowed, but his eyes never left me the entire time.
Much to my dismay, Luca replied, “Count on it.”
He waited until both parties left before returning to me. The look in his eyes and his walk made it look like he was a predator and I was his prey. I took a step backward. The empty glass he had held dropped and shattered. I glanced down as the shards scattered and suddenly, he was on me and pushing me up against several wooden crates that were stacked on top of one another. “You’re so beautiful.” His lips smashed against mine and his arm wrapped around me so he could slide me upwards until my legs were forced to wrap around his torso for support. I think I might have dropped my glass as well but I barely heard it shatter. The way he kissed me was ravenous and I struggled to keep up in my confusion. I wanted to ask questions but his kisses were clouding my mind until I could focus on nothing but him. I would never get used to the way his skillful tongue could pull needy sounds from my throat or how just his fingertips could send pulses of fire and ice that spread under my skin. I could feel wood splinters digging into my back but that didn’t matter because his lips were on my neck and spreading fire through my entire body. A quiet whimper escaped my swollen lips. He chuckled in response and slid his hand over my bare thigh, fingers grasping, nails digging into my skin.
The was only one thought that was somewhat coherent.
I wanted him so badly.
Since his mouth was no longer commanding mine, I was able to breathe and say something. “Luca… I don’t understand…”
He sighed into my neck, his breath warm. “I know and I can explain. Let’s go back to the party.” He set me down gently.
“I don’t want to party.”
“I know, but I think you’d prefer a couch to a wooden crate.”
I grinned as I tried to swipe at my back. “I hope the lace isn’t ruined. I could feel the splinters.”
Luca glanced behind me. “Looks fine to me.” He kissed my temple and wrapped his arm around me, which stayed there even after we entered the party again and he led me to a couch located on a balcony above the party. It was secluded and private, probably reserved for him. I could see everything from here, the bar, the entrance, all the people mingling. The rock music picked up its pace and people started dancing, but it was still quiet enough to talk to Luca up here.
“What just went on?”
“An arms deal.” He must have noticed my confused expression. “One gang wanted more weapons, one gang wanted more drugs. It was a trade. I oversee all official business when it comes to the gangs in my sector.” Luca leaned back in the couch and stretched his long legs out in front of him, completely relaxed.
“So you’re basically the kingpin of all the gangs?”
Luca smirked in a dark way. “I suppose. What do you think of that?”
I thought it was incredibly sexy but I wasn’t going to start feeding his ego. “That’s your business.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “But why do you do it?”
“I can’t have one gang getting more power than the others. What would be the fun in that? I let them war with each other every day on equal terms.”
“Right, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” I asked sarcastically. “Why did I need to be there?”
His eyes left mine as he searched for an answer but returned when he found one. “I wanted you to be there.”
“I just want you to know what’s actually going on around here. There’s so much the souls don’t know. You are different from them and I want you to be aware.”
“Be aware of an arms deal?” I laughed nervously.
“Just the tip of the iceberg, Persephone. Things go under the radar in each sector.”
“What did Phillip,” I used the named tentatively, “mean when he welcomed me to the underworld? I’ve been here for awhile now.”
“The criminal underworld.”
“A criminal underworld in Hell? Who would’ve thought? I thought everyone here are saints.” I grinned at my heavy sarcasm.
Luca rolled his eyes. “There are things going on in each sector. Sector Greed isn’t just known for its casinos. Do you really think Hell would be so transparent? Secrets and lies, Persephone. That’s all there is here.”
I leaned into him. “That’s not all there is here. There’s you and there’s me.” I kissed him briefly on the lips until another question came to mind. “I’m your second?”
“No. You’d have to be in my sector for that.” Luca’s eyes glanced at my bare forearm and his thumb slid across the spot where a tattoo indicating my sector should be. He brought my arm to his mouth so he could kiss it faintly and I shivered as I watched him with hungry eyes. “I let Phillip believe that.”
I leaned away from him, disappointed with his answer, though I wasn’t sure why I was disappointed.
He could sense my disappointment because then his arm went around me and pulled me closer. “But you are my ally, my only friend, and someone I…” He didn’t finish that sentence, shaking his head slightly. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d want to run errands for me.”
“You thought correctly,” I grinned.
He watched me for a moment, I could always tell even if I wasn’t looking at him. I was looking at the party going on below. “I want you to know me, to know what I do, but…” He trailed off softly, unsure how to finish his sentence.
I looked back at him now, trying to gauge his emotions. He was unreadable, as always. “But what?”
“It’s like another world, Persephone. It’s the shit that really goes on down here, every terrible, disgusting, horrifying detail. You don’t belong in that. Your afterlife won’t be the same anymore. You won’t look at things the same way. You won’t look at me the same way.” Luca finished bitterly.
My hand reached out to him, slowly touching his cheek, my thumb sliding across his skin. He leaned into my palm slightly, just enough pressure to let me know he was taking comfort in my touch. “I’m glad you want me to know you, Luca,” I smiled and took a nervous breath, unsure if I should push my next question. “Does that mean you trust me? You said you couldn’t earlier.”
His gray eyes watched me for a time and he hesitated to answer, but then he nodded his head. I could tell that truth was something that was hard for him to admit.
“Can I trust you?” I whispered.
He glanced away from me. “I want to say yes but I don’t think anyone could trust me.” His answer was bitter like he was saddened by the fact. He wished I could trust him and that surprised me.
I stroked his cheek with my thumb again and rested my forehead against his. “Luca, that’s okay, it’s okay. I understand.”
“Is it really?”
“Yes. You’re being honest. That’s good, Luca.” I smiled. “And my answer is yes… I want to know. I want to know you and everything else.”
“Persephone…” He sounded like he was pained. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” I smiled softly and pressed my lips to his lightly, over and over again.
He sighed when he pulled away. I could tell he didn’t want me to commit to this. He lied back on the couch and stretched his legs out in front of him again, pensively staring at the people dancing below us and quite clearly avoiding eye contact with me.
I bit my lip and gathered some courage. I didn’t want him to make this decision for me. From the first day I got here, that’s what people had been doing to me: taking choices and keeping secrets from me. I moved closer to him again and slid my leg over until I was straddling his lap, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if that dress hadn’t had a slit, and he was forced to look at me when I forcefully jerked his chin to face me. I trailed my nails from his jaw down to his neck and collarbone as he watched me warily. He couldn’t hide the fact that he enjoyed me in this position, even if he was trying to be serious. “You don’t want me to do this.”
“I don’t. I…” He didn’t continue because I pressed my lips to his neck, letting the tip of my tongue slither across his skin lightly until I felt his pulse between my teeth. His hands put pressure on my hips, drawing me closer to him and grinding me against his lap instinctually.
I just barely pulled away to whisper, “It’s not your decision, Luca.”
“Do you not think I can handle it?”
“Quite the opposite, actually. I was just thinking about it.” He laughed faintly. “You’ll adapt and change, just like you always do. You’ll thrive.” He pushed me back further so he could look directly at me, his gaze heavy with meaning. “You could fucking rule this place, Persephone.”
“Queen of the Underworld?” The smile I flashed was fierce and I kissed him again with passion. My tongue slid across his lips before entering his mouth and tangling with his. This was the kiss that sold the deal, better than the pomegranate seeds we shared that first night.
“Welcome to your kingdom.”