I was at a welcoming party, my first in what felt like months, but was probably longer. It was Luca’s idea and I was more than apprehensive about attending. He assured me that nothing would happen in such a public place and that I had nothing to worry about. I helped the bartender out of boredom while the lords and ladies were announcing new residents.
“You know, I haven’t seen you around here in awhile.” It was the same one I had flirted with to get faster drinks for myself and Michael. He leaned against the bar as I wiped it down idly.
“I’ve just been busy.” It wasn’t a lie. I had been busy but not on these nights specifically. I usually just stayed home while Luca was here.
“I think Lady Lucielle has been looking for you and I think maybe Lord Vincent, as well. I may or may not have eavesdropped while I was setting up earlier. Are you in trouble or something?” He looked a little scared for my well-being, which was precious.
“Interesting, and no, not really.” I played it off.
“I wonder why they’re looking for you then.” He trailed off, muttering to himself.
“How have you been?”
“Same old, same old. I’m great.”
“That’s good,” I said blandly. I was deathly bored here and just wanted to go home. I didn’t see the point of Luca wanting me to tag along to this event. I had been noticed by the leaders already, dirty looks from Callista, intense stares from Lucielle, and mildly interested glances from Vincent. The most intense gaze of them all was the piercing gray one ridiculing how there was an unsupervised man within five feet from me. I started debating whether or not to start praying for it to be over soon.
Eventually, the introductions were over, the dancing started, the bar became increasingly busy, and the bartender picked an impeccable time to ask a question right as I saw Luca’s unruly hair bobbing its way to me through the crowd.
“So, what are you doing later, after the party?” The tone implied other things.
Of course, Luca had just entered hearing range. I didn’t reply. He answered for me. “She’s busy.”
The bartender didn’t look up from serving someone, replying with wit. “She’s busy, is she? Why not let the lady speak for herself?” When he did look up, I could probably point out the exact moment he soiled his pants.
Luca grinned in a chilling way. “What was that? I’m afraid I think I didn’t hear you correctly.”
“Forgive me, Lord Luca. I didn’t know she was… yours.” He bowed deeply.
He looked too smug for my liking. I punched him on the arm. “Luca wishes.”
“Persephone doesn’t think she can be contained by any man.” He laughed and leaned across the bar. “I’d like a vodka on the rocks.”
“Actually, I know I can’t,” I smiled and leaned across the bar to smooth out his wrinkled shirt. “Pay up.”
He kissed me on the lips. “Good enough?”
“Showing me affection in public? Disgusting.” I mocked but got him his drink. “If you’re just going to socialize with me the entire time you’re here, what was the point of dragging me along? Why can’t we just go home?”
“Because I have to be here and it’s so terribly boring, so I wanted to bring you to keep me entertained.”
“Poor you. Your friends up there,” I nodded my head towards the balcony where the other lords and ladies were. “Aren’t interesting enough for you?”
“Whatever will you do when you suddenly find me boring? It will be the end of the world. Maybe Hell will freeze over.”
“I doubt that would happen.”
I wiped off the counter before jumping up and sitting on it to lean against Luca. “You know, I’m surprised Lucielle hasn’t tried to pull anything.”
“I don’t think she’d try something so public. She’s all about impulse and emotion control. A scene isn’t something she enjoys making but you never really know with her. Callista, on the other hand…”
I chuckled. “I know, I remember.”
He kissed my neck slowly, but it was more of him getting close enough to whisper something to me. “They won’t hurt you. I won’t let them.”
“Just a bourbon, thanks.” A familiar voice said at the other end of the bar. “I’m surprised to see you here, Persephone. I thought you were trying to lay low.”
“Michael…” He looked tired, very tired, with dark purple circles under his eyes.
“She hasn’t been trying to lay low. She’s just been avoiding Lucielle and her lap dog, you.” Luca wrapped his arms around me possessively and stared him down.
“Seph, I’m not here to argue with you. I just… You have to help us. There’s going to be consequences.”
“Like what, Michael?” I raised my voice. “Absolutely nothing has happened, so what are these consequences you speak of?”
“That you know of, apparently. Callista has been squaring off with Lennox and Vincent. Things are happening.”
I gave Luca a wide-eyed glare, then looked at the balcony. Callista and the boys were standing on opposite sides, warily watching each other. Lucielle was sipping on a drink and staring at us, not concerned with the others.
“I forgot to tell you, that’s my bad, but you didn’t want to be a part of it, so…”
“You’re right. I don’t want to be a part of it unless it directly affects us, and so far, it hasn’t.”
“But it will, Persephone. They will pull you in eventually, especially him.” He nodded to Luca.
“Just like you’re trying to right now, only because Lucielle wants you to.”
“The difference is that we could teach you, it would be your choice, but they would bring you into it unwillingly.”
“You’re telling me that you actually think your stalking and harassment is making me want to go willingly?”
Luca withdrew his hands from my hips and turned to look at Michael. “You will leave her alone or there will be real consequences, worse than Lucielle will do to you.”
“Can we leave now?” I asked quietly.
“Yes, we’re leaving.” He swiftly picked me up and over the bar to set me back down on my feet. We tried to hurry past Michael but he caught my wrist, which caused me to jerk backward.
“Persephone, please. I’m trying to save you.”
Luca pushed him back with a hand to the chest and then slapped him, an angry red mark immediately appearing on his cheek. The sound seemed louder than the music, if that was even possible. People in the immediate vicinity turned to watch with interest. “Keep your hands off her or I will end you,” He snarled ferociously. “If you didn’t mean so much to her, I would have killed you for hurting her a long time ago.”
I was surprised he knew my feelings about Michael, though I didn’t think I had ever talked to Luca about him. It showed how much he knew me.
“Don’t you know, Michael?” I asked before we escaped the building. “I don’t need to be saved.”
* * *
“Mmm… I told you it would go badly.” I was wrapped around Luca under the sheets of our bed, peppering kisses across his neck and jaw.
“I know, I know.” He sighed. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You don’t have to go to any more of them if you don’t want.”
“Besides, I think it’s much more enjoyable spending time with you in the bedroom rather than the welcoming party.” I giggled as he rolled me over to kiss me.
“I think I know what you mean.” More hot kisses along my chest and stomach. His skin was so warm and comforting against mine. I didn’t think I would ever get tired of it. Who would have thought I’d find a home in Hell?
“I thought we had something to do later.” I ran my fingers through his silky hair distractedly.
“Why do you always have to remind me of plans and ruin our fun?” His gray eyes looked up at me.
“I didn’t say we had to stop…” I grinned and threw my head back against the pillow as he kissed the inside of my thigh. “How were you responsible enough to rule an entire section of Hell if you can’t remember your obligations without me?”
“And how are you still able to talk? I must not be doing that good of job…” He kissed a higher part of my thigh and brought my skin into his mouth.
“Mmm… I’m just trying… to be responsible.”
“Well, stop.” He moved up to kiss me on the mouth, slowly stroking his fingers across my abdomen, hip, and thigh, inching closer and closer…
“If you insist.” I held his face in my hands and captured his mouth with mine, slow and sensual.
“You drive me crazy.”
“It’s a talent.”
“Do you feel the same way about me?” A loaded question, which made me stop to stare at him. We’ve never talked about our feelings towards one another, we’ve never had to. He watched me expectantly, waiting for an answer and looking surprisingly… vulnerable.
“Of course I do. You’ve been a pain in my ass since I met you.” I laughed for a few seconds but stopped and looked at him. He was not laughing. My hand trailed down his back around to his stomach, brushing my fingers against his skin like he was doing to me. “You drive me really, really crazy. I promise.” I murmured against his lips.
“Good.” He moved down and trailed kisses all the way to the inside of my thigh.
Yeah, he drove me crazy.
I couldn’t resist asking. “Okay, but what is it for? What are we supposed to be doing?”
He growled in annoyance.
“I’m just curious to see if it was important, if it’s not… We could always skip it.” I grinned mischievously.
“Persephone, you’re trying my patience.”
“It’s entertaining, I must admit.”
“And you know what I find entertaining?”
There were a lot of things he found entertaining. I couldn’t guess. “What could that be?”
In one swift movement, his thumb hooked around the side of my underwear and pulled them down to my knees. I gasped. “Seeing you shocked, exposed…” He broke eye contact to look down.
“Don’t you dare say vulnerable.”
“Never.” I felt him press his smile into my skin as a kiss. “But we do have enough time before the event, so… Why not both?”
And both we did. The event was another run of the mill gun and drug deal in a back room of a bar, which we barely made it to on time thanks to Luca’s antics. I had to shower with Luca, to conserve water and time, he said, and threw my hair back in a rush. Luca socialized a little before the deal started and I got him his drink from the bar, but I was surprised to run into another familiar face.
Sam’s hair had gotten longer. “Still running with him, huh? It’s been awhile.”
“Unfortunately,” I smiled. “It has been some time, hasn’t it? What brings you here?”
“The usual, and you?”
I nodded my head towards Luca.
“Of course. How has your afterlife been?”
“It’s been good.”
“Good,” she smiled deviously, “Or great?”
“Great,” I replied with an equally devious smile as I watched Luca.
“I don’t mean to be rude but I’m going to be honest with you, I’m surprised he still has you around.”
“I get that fairly often. I’m useful. I guess he just likes having me around.” I played it off. Though Luca and I weren’t actively trying to hide the nature of our relationship from the public, we weren’t exactly advertising it, either.
“Must be…” She trailed off. “Hey, weren’t you friends with Michael Knight?”
“Yeah, what about it?” Whatever she was about to say couldn’t have been good.
“Have you heard what Lucielle did to him?”
“No, what happened?”
“She practically disowned him as her second, beat him badly in the middle of the welcoming party earlier, after Lord Luca had slapped him. That doesn’t happen too often. Seconds are hand picked based on traits that benefit the leaders, but I’m sure you know all about that. What I’m saying is that what went down is super rare. Do you have any idea why?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. Thanks for telling me, though.” On the surface, I was fine, but I was really worried. He had been my friend, once, if any of our time together was real. At least he wasn’t gone. “I’m going to go give this to Luca. I’ll see you around.”
“Definitely.” She smiled brilliantly. “See ya!”
I walked across the room to the group of men that surrounded Luca, laughing about something he was saying. “Here’s your drink.”
“Oh, here she is,” Luca said, pulling me closer to him.
“He was just talking about you.”
“All good things, I hope.” I chuckled nervously.
“Of course, Persephone.”
“Damn right, you should worship the ground I walk on after what I have to put up with because of you.”
None of them laughed at my joke.
“She’s… quite forward, isn’t she?” One of them spoke up after several awkward seconds of silence, pretending like I wasn’t even there.
“Yes, she is.” Luca nodded. “Speaking of, I forgot some papers in my office, if you could go fetch them, that would be nice.”
“Fetch them?” Who the hell did he think I was? A dog? I leaned closer to him so I could whisper in his ear. “You better not talk to me like that again. We’re talking about this later.” I stormed off to fetch his stupid papers, noticing how Sam was still watching me from across the bar.
Outside, I was muttering to myself. “He’s such a jackass. Why do I even put up with this shit? I should know better! I could just set his house on fire. That would teach him a lesson…”
I heard fast footsteps approaching me and turned just in time for whoever it was to run into me. “Hey, watch it, asshole!”
He paused. “Hey, who are you?”
“Persephone Flem-” I started to answer, just as an incredibly loud noise erupted from the bar behind me, where I had just come from. Flames and bits of brick flew everywhere. The force knocked me against a cement wall head first. My vision darkened to the point of near blindness, orange flames and the dark figure coming towards. My ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear anything else. I was so disoriented and consciousness was fading in and out. I faintly remember trying to scream Luca’s name. The figure picked me up and everything went black for a short time.
The events that followed came to me in bits and pieces; being carried at a fast pace, changing directions multiple times, being dropped onto the ground suddenly, and waking up with a few people surrounding me.
My head hurt like a bitch. “What is going on?”
“My, my, what are you doing here?”
“You tell me, what the hell happened? Where am I? Who the hell are you?”
“I’m your savior, apparently. You’re in my sector, Persephone. Passed out in an alleyway.” I looked up to see who was talking to me. Spots of black danced in my vision. It was Lord Vincent. “I have to say, this isn’t really your style.”
“There was a bomb… Someone picked me up.”
“So you aren’t passed out drunk?”
“Of course not. I hit my head in the explosion and someone tried to kidnap me, I’m guessing.”
“And dump you here to frame me, no doubt.” He held out his hand. “It’s a good thing I found you. Unpleasant things happen to unconscious women.”
“I’m supposed to believe you were just out for a stroll and found me?”
“No. I like my sector to be pristine. People who are passed out drunk in public are reported and taken care of, and someone reported a person with your description so I came to investigate.” His hand was still held out for me and I took it, struggling to get to my feet.
“Is Luca alright?”
Vincent chuckled. “Of course you’d ask. I haven’t heard anything, but I’m sure he’s fine. We’re quite resilient, you know.”
“I need to go find him, make sure he’s alright…” I stumbled forward and almost fell if not for Vincent catching me by my waist.
“That head injury must be bad. You can’t even walk. You need some rest… and to be cleaned up. Margot, would you take her back to your place, bathe her, and let her sleep?” Before handing me off to another woman, he said, “She’s my second. You’ll be fine.”
“I may need some help getting her there, I couldn’t possibly carry her by myself.”
“Boys, you heard her. Carry Miss Flemming back to Margot’s apartment. I have things I need to check into, but I’ll come by later to check on our unexpected guest. Treat her kindly, please.” Vincent waved them off and I was picked up by a very tall and muscular man.
It seemed to be a short walk. I had no idea where I was being taken because I had to keep my eyes shut. The bright lights seared my brain. Into a lobby, then an elevator, then an apartment.
“If one of you could start a hot bath, that would be lovely. Just set her in the bathroom for now.” Margot had a distinct voice, aristocratic and spoiled. She looked like a fairy, almost, with dainty, pristine features, short blonde hair, and pale skin. “I’ll get her some water.”
The henchmen drew the bath and left quietly. Margot came into the bathroom with a glass of water. “So, what happened?”
“I came out of the bar to go get something, some guy ran into me, asked my name, and a bomb went off. I got thrown against a wall. My head is literally killing me.”
“Hopefully, this bath will help. You look dreadful.” She inspected my hair.
“I bet.” I turned my head to the mirror.
Margot dodged in front of it. “It’s best if you don’t see, trust me. Here, let me take your clothes off for you.”
“No need to be modest.” She started to unbutton my blouse while I fumbled with trying to unbutton my jeans. My fingers didn’t seem to be working properly. “You probably have a really bad concussion.” She slipped my blouse off my shoulders. It was in tatters anyway. “It’s funny how most people only get naked with others when it comes to sex. It’s usually so intimate.”
“Yeah.” I chuckled nervously, as she unclipped my bra with one hand the first try and unbuttoned my pants with the other. “You do this often?”
“I do change my clothes every day, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“No! I don’t know. Other people. It’s none of my business.” My attempt at small talk was going terribly. Soon, I was completely naked in front of a woman I had just met.
“Are those real?” She nodded to my breasts.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“You can get in the bath now. I’ll stay in here, if you don’t mind.”
“I guess not, you’ve already seen me naked.” I was still a little wobbly so she eased me into the bathtub and I took out my hair tie.
“Ever had someone wash your hair for you?”
“No, not really.”
“It’s nice. Relaxing. I’ll do it for you, it’s no problem.”
“Oh, okay. Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re being surprisingly nice to me. Is it because Vincent told you to?”
“Mostly because I’ve heard many things about you and I’m curious, especially after the fact that Lord Vincent completely dropped what he was doing and abandoned his obligations to find a girl unconscious in an alley on the off chance that it could have been you.”
“As good a reason as any, I suppose. Thanks for the honesty.”
“Drink this.” She held out the water glass to me. “I need the cup when you’re done.”
It didn’t take me very long to drink it. I hadn’t realized how dehydrated I was. “Here you go.”
Margot dipped the cup in the water and poured the water over my hair, careful to not get it in my eyes. She did this a few more times and then combed her fingers through my hair slowly. It was extremely soothing and I admit that I do love when people play with my hair. It always gives me goosebumps. The shampoo she used smelled expensive and she massaged it into my scalp and through my long blonde strands, careful to not hurt my head. The water and soap falling off me were turning reddish-brown. She used the cup to rinse the shampoo out and did the same with the conditioner. “You have nice hair.”
“So do you. I wish I was brave enough to wear my hair short like that.”
She grabbed a wastebasket. I was confused as to what she needed it for so I watched her walk back to the tub and hurriedly try to scoop something into it.
“What are you doing? Is that…” I finally saw what she was trying to hide: clumps of my hair and little pieces of bone. “Holy shit. Are those pieces of my skull?”
“That is precisely why I didn’t want you to look in the mirror.” She rinsed off her hands in the sink. “Feel free to stay in as long as you’d like. I’ll have some food catered in and,” she paused to pick up my clothing and inspect the tags, “some new clothes delivered. It might take a little while so here’s a clean robe and the towels are over there.”
“I’m starting to feel better already, thanks, but what is Vincent doing?”
“Like I said, Lord Vincent was in the middle of some obligations when he stopped everything to find you, and he might be looking into the bombing in Sector Violence, though honestly I can’t say I’m surprised that happened…” She grimaced. “But with everything that’s been going on, it might not be a random attack. We have our suspicions to who might have been behind it.”
“Your boss just wants to get on Luca’s good side.”
“Of course he does. Vincent is analytical, smart. He would be a fool not to try, and it’s up for debate that Lord Luca even has a good side.”
“You would know, wouldn’t you? You’re his second, after all.” Her tone was sickly sweet and condescending.
“What’s your relationship with Vincent?”
“Professional. It’s wise to not let it go beyond that.”
“I’m worried about Luca.” The words erupted from my mouth without my consent. A gnawing ball of anxiety and fear had been clawing at my insides since I had woken up.
“He’s either fine or he will be. I’m sure Vincent is trying to find him and Lord Luca would not be happy if Vincent allowed you to return before it’s safe.” With that, she left the bathroom and I was alone.
I washed the dirt from the rest of my body and dried off. I wrapped the towel around my hair and tied the robe closed before exiting the bathroom.
“Done already? There’s food on the table. The clothes aren’t here yet.”
“Thanks, Margot.” The dinner table was in view and I picked through things. Margot was sipping something out of a glass and looking out a window. I came over to her. “Nice view, reminds me of the one from my apartment. Is this a penthouse suite, too?”
“Pride is a cheap knockoff of Sector Greed.”
I shrugged. “I can see why you would think so.”
“So why did you choose Sector Pride if you just spend all your time in Sector Violence?”
“Because Lucielle and Michael have been harassing me.”
“Because you don’t want to side with them?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not interested in siding with anyone.” I corrected, not wanting to give her any ideas. “Why are you a second?”
“Why are you?” She asked slyly. “Probably for different reasons than I, but haven’t you enjoyed it? You’ve seen the top of the food chain here, the power they have, the awe and fear they inspire. They’re untouchable. You get a piece of that once you’re a second and you’re so close to that power, you can almost taste it.”
I didn’t argue with her because she wasn’t wrong.
A brisk knock on the front door before it opened. “Margot, I’ve returned. I hope Persephone is looking more presentable and feeling better.”
“Where is she? Let me see her!” Luca’s forceful voice came from behind Vincent.
Vincent opened the door and let Luca in. “You see? She’s fine! You had nothing to be afraid of.”
Luca’s eyes widened and he walked towards me. “Persephone?”
I met him halfway, and before he could say anything else, I slapped him across the face. A red mark the exact shape of my hand appeared on his face. “Fetch my papers?” I quoted angrily. “I’m not some dog. Don’t speak to me like that again.”
He smiled and stooped down to hug me, whispering in my ear. “I had been warned about the bomb. I needed to get you out of there as quick as I could without you leaving, looking scared, and drawing attention.”
“You stupid, stupid man,” I murmured back. Any insult that might have been was lost in my soft tone. “I was worried about you.”
“You have no idea.” He ended the hug.
I finally looked at his clothes, or the remnants of them: they were burned and soot covered every inch of him. “You look terrible.”
“She got it all over my robe,” Margot hissed.
“I’ll get you a new one,” Vincent replied. “Well, I was expecting a more… passionate reunion. I feel as though I’ve been cheated, but the slap was unexpected and dramatic, don’t you think, Margot?”
“If I ever did something like that…”
“You’d never see the light of Hell again.” Vincent finished with a smile. “But Luca here seems to enjoy the occasional beating.”
Luca glared at him and chose not to say anything to him. “Persephone, what happened to you? How did you end up here?”
“Yes, please tell him. He doesn’t seem to believe me.”
“I left the bar, some dude ran into me and asked who I was, the bomb went off, and the guy picked me up and I was unconscious half the time. Woke up in an alley here with Vincent standing over me.”
“I think it was someone Callista had sent to kidnap her and dump her here to frame us.” Vincent offered his idea.
“Or you could just be behind it.” Luca stared at him with eyes that could kill but Vincent just kept smiling. “Did you see who the guy was? Sector tattoo, maybe?”
“No, it was dark. Might have been wearing a hat. I really have no clue.”
Another knock on the door. Vincent opened it. It was a delivery man who stopped short in clear surprise and immediately bowed. “Lord Vincent, Luca…”
“Yes, yes.” Vincent was bored and took the two boxes from him. “What is it?”
“I took the liberty of ordering some new clothes for Miss Flemming. The ones she was wearing were almost as bad as his.”
“Get dressed. Let’s go home.” Luca nodded, stole the boxes from Vincent, and handed them to me. “I hope this is decent clothing.”
I agreed with him. I was exhausted.
“It should be fine.”
I quickly changed in the bathroom, pleased to find the clothing she ordered was a plain long sleeve shirt, some jeans, undergarments, and a pair of sneakers.
Vincent looked less than thrilled when I emerged from the bathroom. “Margot, you lack vision and creativity! You could have ordered her anything! At least something that showed off a little skin…”
She opened her mouth to reply but Luca spoke up. “You did fine. Vincent is just a little jealous. He’ll get over it.” He opened the front door and ushered me out.
Vincent caught my arm. “Oh, before you leave, Persephone, if you’d ever like a job in my sector again, let me know, I’ll give you a nicer one. No cowardly boss that would fire you because of some threat.” He continued in a lower voice, “Just put in a good word for me with your… Luca.”
I twisted my arm away from him because I didn’t want him touching me. He still creeped me out, even after all this time. “Got it.”
As soon as we had heard the door shut firmly and were out of view of the bodyguards, Luca pushed me against the wall and kissed me frantically. “I was so worried about you. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Let myself be kidnapped while I was passed out? Got it.” I laughed faintly against his lips.
He rested his head on my shoulder and took deep breaths before meeting my eyes again, his expression pained but sincere. “I don’t know what I would do if something ever bad happened to you. Persephone, I don’t know how I can care about something so much.”I kissed him on the nose. “You don’t have to know. We have an eternity to figure it out.”