By the time the day of the welcoming party had come along, I regretted making that promise, but it was clear that neither Michael nor Fia cared as they invaded my apartment and began looting my bar for my alcohol so they could pre-game. Fia pillaged my closet, looking for a dress for me to wear while Michael had turned on my stereo to blast music and gotten out some glasses by the bar. Both of them were already dressed, Michael in a tuxedo and Fia in a slender, long dress.
“If you don’t go all out like you did last time, I will be very angry. Nothing short of your best effort, Persephone.” She paused, probably to drink more of her cocktail. She had gained the wisdom to know not to drink hard liquor without diluting it prior to a party this time. “Would you like another long dress or no?”
“It’s too much work,” I whined from the bathroom because they had forced me to get into the shower. I toweled off my hair and blow dried it.
“Have you shaved your legs?” Fia called out.
“Uh, yes. Why?” I was self-conscious but thanked myself that I did because I was definitely not one of those girls who shaved their legs every day. If there even were girls like that, I didn’t know. It took too much effort.
“Short it is.” She paused again. “Or maybe I could find another long dress with a slit. You looked amazing in that last dress. Long dresses suit you.”
“Agreed,” Michael piped up from the other side of my apartment, yelling over the rock music.
“A long one would be fine.” I peeked out of the bathroom, blushing because I had forgotten to bring any clean clothes in with me. “Get me a thong, would you?”
She sling-shot a skin tone one into my face. How she had such good aim, even after drinking, I had no idea.
“Thanks.” I slipped it on and wrapped my towel around me again so I could look for a dress. Just like the week before, I let my hands skim over the fabric until I felt the one I wanted to wear; a rich, deep violet colored silk. I pulled it off the rack and held it up to me, revealing that it was actually one of those high-low dresses with a sweetheart neckline. Black lace infused with silver thread spread across the bodice and the silk fell down in loose waves to the floor. The shortest part of the dress was just above mid-thigh. I would have to be careful about flashing anyone tonight, but that only made me think about Luca, which left me blushing. “What about this one?”
Fia shot me a jealous glare. “How do you even do that?”
“It’s perfect, just like last time.” She scrutinized it before adding, “Silver heels would go fabulously with that.”
“Oh, what does it look like? Let me see!” I heard Michael’s voice coming closer to my room.
“No! Let me put it on first! Stay out of my room!” I blushed, without him even being in here.
“Prude,” Fia directed towards me.
“I don’t like people seeing me naked, alright?”
“How many people have even seen you naked? Just me?”
“No,” I grumbled, trying not to think of Lord Luca barging in while I changed. I dropped the towel and quickly put on the dress. This time, the zipper was on the side so I was able to zip up myself. I glanced in the mirror and gave a bright smile. “I like it.”
“I do, too. I envious of your style.”
“I see you’ve decided on a long dress this time.”
“In a failed attempt to look elegant like you.”
I rolled my eyes and left my bedroom, finding Michael helping himself to more of my alcohol. It took him a second to realize I was standing there, but when he did, he did a double take. I saw his Adam’s apple bob up and down. “Wow, you look great already.”
“Thanks! I still need to do my hair and makeup, though.” I ventured back into my bathroom and added waves to my hair and put on the same makeup I used last week.
“You girls almost ready?” Michael called out. “I think it’s time to leave. Really, we’re already late, but I don’t think you care about the welcoming ceremony.”
“Correct,” Fia quipped, leaving my room. “I was already ready.”
I finished applying my lipstick. “I’m ready as well.”
Walking to the welcoming ceremony sober was not as terrifying as being tipsy and vulnerable, but it also helped that Michael was with us. Having a guy around deterred other men, which annoyed me, but ultimately I was grateful that I had met a seemingly decent man in Hell, one that would be my friend. The streets were basically empty as well. We quietly slipped into Center Sector’s massive building, or tried to, but the front doors closed behind us with a bang, even though we hadn’t touched them.
Lady Lucielle looked up from the middle of her speech and her eyes sent daggers in our direction, but her eyebrows raised. “Ah, Persephone Flemming, I’m not surprised.”
Suddenly everyone turned their heads to look at me, and, thank the devil, I looked good. I wasn’t prepared to be under everyone’s gaze like last time, but somehow it had found me anyways. I noticed the way Lord Luca tensed on stage, his muscles rippling under his shirt, but he was the only one not to looked at me.
“She’s the one from last week. That one new Pride girl.”
“God damn me to Hell, I’m lucky to be here with her.”
“But look at her hot friend, though! She’s the one in Lust, right? If Pride Girl doesn’t put out, you know who will.”
“They hooked up on the dancefloor at the last welcoming party.”
“She’s such a fucking babe!”
“I wonder what she looks like naked.”
“Barely have to wonder with that dress, or the last one.”
“I bet she fucks like an angel.”
The whispers were getting increasingly worse and made me uncomfortable. Michael must have noticed because he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me into his chest.
“And look at that. She has a boy with her already.”
“Who is that?”
“Michael Knight, I think. He’s been here for awhile and from Sector Pride, too.”
“Persephone already has a fucking boyfriend? Unbelievable. You know girls like that like to sleep around for a long time before settling.”
Michael chuckled and kissed my forehead, whispering, “Just play along.”
But even pressed against Michael’s fit body, I couldn’t escape the furious look that flashed from Lord Luca’s face as he finally, finally, looked at me, but just like that, it was gone, replaced by his usual stormy, apathetic exterior.
Coincidentally, the feeling of someone’s eyes on me didn’t leave me all night.
Lady Lucielle seemed to notice and almost started to grin but contained herself. “Michael, you’d do well to stay away from Persephone. She’s trouble.”
“Oh, I know, Lady Lucielle, but aren’t we all? I like her the way she is.”
A few gasps sprung up from the crowd, and Lady Lucielle looked incredibly annoyed but continued on with the rest of the welcoming ceremony.
“That wasn’t a smart thing to do, Michael,” I whispered and followed Fia’s lead as she made her way to the bar.
“Oh, well, only stuck up for you to one of the leaders of Hell in front of everyone, no big deal. What are friends for?”
The party started shortly after we sat at the bar, and Lady Lucielle appeared after that, putting the fear of God in us, so to speak.
“Persephone Flemming, Michael Knight, Fia Clarke, if any of you cause any other problems tonight, any fights, any interruptions, you will be removed immediately and punished. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” I squeaked and Michael echoed me.
“Yeah, sure,” Fia said, not even bothering to turn around to look at Lady Lucielle.
Our heads turned around so fast, I think I got whiplash. Did Fia just realize she just dismissed one of the ladies of Hell? I gulped down the rest of my cocktail, thinking I was going to need this alcohol for whatever was about to happen next. Hey, it might be the last time I’m allowed to drink alcohol, or I’m even able to drink anything. I excepted a bolt of lightning to smite us any moment now.
“Excuse me, Miss Clarke?” Lady Lucielle said, her face flushing slightly. Her pale skin made the blush all too noticeable. I don’t think she was used to this much opposition in one night. I wasn’t used to feeling this much stress.
“I just don’t think Lady Callista really cares that much. If she wanted to punish me for anything, she wouldn’t send you. I’m not in your sector, as I’m sure you’re aware of.” Fia said with her back still to Lady Lucielle. “Since when do you care if people start a few fights? It happens all the time, from what I hear. Why are you targeting us?”
Michael and I shared a look of stark horror. Were we about to be tortured by association?
I watched as Lady Lucielle internally debated with punishing Fia right now or controlling her emotions, but the later must have won, because her features smoothed out and she left, simply saying, “I’m watching you.”
Michael and I sat back at the bar next to Fia and I breathed, “Fia, what the fuck were you thinking?”
“I can’t believe she just left without dragging Fia off. When people get punished, they aren’t ever seen again. It’s serious, guys. You don’t want to fuck with them.”
“The Lords and Ladies of Hell are just bullies. I don’t care for bullies very much. This is Hell. There aren’t any rules, yet there are for us? That’s bullshit.” Fia sipped her drink, leaning back in her barstool. “Besides, do you really think Lord Luca would let Persephone and crew get dragged off never to be seen again for actual torture?”
“Absolutely,” I said, remembering the anger in his face when he overheard the rumor of my boyfriend.
“Yeah, you’re totally right, Fia,” Michael said, ignoring me.
“She is not right. He is completely indifferent to me. Did you see the way he looked at us tonight?”
“That way he looked at you?” Fia asked curiously and laughed. “I saw passion, Persephone. That was passion.”
“Are you crazy? That was the kind of rage that could kill a thousand people.”
“Isn’t that the best kind?” Fia asked with a wink.
Michael looked at us and shook his head, laughing and ordering us strong shots. “We’ll need these.”
The bartender set three little glasses full in front of us and we each took one.
“To an awesome night now that Persephone has finally rejoined the group, one that won’t be ruined by the Lords and Ladies of Hell.” Fia raised her glass.
“Cheers!” Michael and I said with Fia, all of us clinking our glasses together before downing the fiery liquid. I had to force myself not to gag. Ever since the party last week, I hadn’t touched alcohol, even shuddering when I thought about it. I couldn’t wimp out now, though.
“I am not nearly drunk enough for this shit!” Fia yelled.
“And I can still taste this so obviously something is wrong here.” I crinkled my nose.
“Bartender, my good man!” Fia leaned over the bar. “Get us more rounds?”
I tried my best not to taste the next few rounds at all, and not to throw them back up like my body wanted to. Eventually, my taste buds were numbed so they went down easier, but then my stomach started disagreeing. “I’m done for now. Just a break because I have to space these things out if I don’t want to throw up my internal organs again.”
“Fair enough.” Michael nodded but threw back another shot, and then the one I refused. I envied men and their bigger bodies and more tolerance for alcohol.
“Dance with me, Fia?” I grinned sheepishly. Nothing was going to happen with us staying at the bar all night.
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Fia grinned back, downing her glass and pushing away from the bar. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the crowd of people, turning me around by placing her hands on my waist and bringing my backside into contact with her. I felt her warm fingertips burn holes in my dress as I let the music take over, dancing and grinding into her, feeling her body do the same to me. I don’t know what it was, the music, or the alcohol, but her warm breath on my neck sent a thrill through my body and goosebumps erupted across my skin.
Just like last time, the crowd started to notice how heavy we were getting and cheered us on.
I turned myself around and grabbed Fia’s jaw, jerking her head to the side briskly before placing my lips against her throat. I felt how fast her heart was beating as I began to kiss a trail along her neck. She shivered under me, one hand sliding to my ass; I could feel each of her fingers as they indented into my skin. The other warm hand snaked up my stomach to encompass my breast and squeezed. My moan echoed hers as I began to kiss up her jaw and to her lips. She didn’t hesitate to plunge her tongue into my mouth as she smashed her body against mine, rubbing up against me slightly. I opened my eyes slightly, just long enough to glance up at the balcony to where the Lords and Ladies sat. Lord Lennox, Lord Vincent, and Lady Callista were avidly watching us, enthralled and commenting to each other, but Lady Lucielle just grimaced and looked away. Lord Luca was nowhere to be found.
Such a shame, he would’ve probably enjoyed watching me. This was just a show, after all.
“Oh, my fucking God, this is better than last time.”
“Hey, I hope your boyfriend gets to join in on this.”
“Persephone and Fia are the baddest, hottest bitches in Hell.”
Fia smirked mid-kiss after that last comment, pulling away from me to say. “And don’t you forget it.” Then, it was her turn to kiss my neck, but she bit down hard and I cried out lightly. She kissed it softly, dragging her tongue down to my collarbone. My breathing hitched in my throat. “Do you like girls, Persephone?” Fia asked breathily into my skin.
“I… I don’t know,” I replied quietly, a sudden fear going through me, but judging from the way my body was on fire and how it reacted to every place she touched, I would say I might, but maybe it was just the alcohol.
“Would you like to find out?” She ducked lower and kissed my chest, bringing my skin between her teeth. “It’s okay, Seph, you don’t have to deny anything to yourself here.”
“God…” I moaned. “Okay.”
Fia snapped into action and grabbed my hand, leading me out of the crowd and to the curved hallway. The men protested but we ignored them. As soon as we passed through the archway and out of view of the massive dancefloor, Fia smashed me up against the wall and began kissing me even harder than we had been moments before. Her hand slid down my side to my leg, using a slight pressure to pull my thighs apart.
“Wait, something isn’t right.” I knew I shouldn’t be feeling this way. It wasn’t rational. I was never like this.
“Shut up, Persephone.” Then her hand slid up and I couldn’t breathe.
“No, seriously--” I knew enough to know what was just alcohol and what wasn’t.
She ignored me and rubbed me harder until I cried out, against my will, in pleasure.
Someone came around the bend. “Persephone?” They called out quickly, desperation hidden under their deep voice. “Are you ok--” They cut themselves off.
My eyes flew open to meet Luca’s, who was standing several feet away and clearly seeing Fia’s hand up my dress. Fia didn’t seem to care that we had an audience, trying to push the fabric of my thong out of the way. What was wrong with her? I hissed and blushed a deep red, feeling Luca’s intense eyes on me, full of anger. Apparently he mistook my pleading eyes to get her off me for something else.
“You seem fine.” He hissed bitterly and turned, walking away.
“Stop it, Fia! I don’t want to!” I struggled to push Fia’s arm away and her off of me, her curses following me as I chased after Luca, who disappeared around the bend. “Luca, wait!” As soon as I had rounded the corner, I felt strong hands on my shoulders pushing me into the wall and a tall figure filled my vision. I knew it was Luca from the familiar way his rough hands rested on me, or the heat of his body, or his scent invading my nose.
“I didn’t expect that from you.”
“I was told that I could have all the sex I want. Is that not true?” I asked in an angry tone, not meeting his eyes because, honestly, I felt guilty. Luca didn’t need to know that. “Why do you even care?”
“Why do you care that I care?” He countered, but then he realized he just admitted he cared.
I met his gray eyes, caught off-guard. “I don’t.”
“Oh, then why did you chase after me?”
“Why did you come looking for me in the first place?” I stuck out my tongue at him.
He growled at me in frustration, and I felt him put more pressure on me. “Do you even like girls?”
“What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t,” I admitted.
“You don’t need to lower your standards--”
“Who says I was lowering my standards? Fia is attractive.”
“I do. Fia is from Sector Lust.” He said forcefully but grimaced towards the end, as if being in Sector Lust was distasteful, ducking his head so it was more level with mine, inching closer to me. “If it’s just sex you want,” he murmured into my neck, making me shiver as a warm tingle spread up my arm from my forearm. This was different, somehow. “I can deliver. After all, having a boyfriend clearly doesn’t affect your conscience and, for what it’s worth, I think she slipped you ecstasy. It lowers inhibitions.”
Several parts of me wanted to accept his offer, but the better part of me tried to push him away from me. “Oh, no, no, no, I’ve heard about you and your exploits. No, thank you.” I paused, my thoughts a jumbled mess. “And wait, what? Ecstasy? Fia?”
“Well, yeah. I don’t think people suddenly get a blazing desire to have sex with a gender they never even thought about before.” He sighed. “Are you okay? I heard after I left…”
“She didn’t stop when I asked… I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“I can punish her, for you. I’d take great pleasure in that.”
“No! Maybe she got drugged, too.” His comment put me on edge. “And, no, I’m definitely not interested. You’d want to take advantage of a poor, inhibitionless girl?”
He still looked a little shocked that I had pushed him away, but it was replaced with smugness. “You mentioned my exploits? What about them?”
“One night stands, never staying the night, et cetera… Which brings me to ask, why did you take me home last week and stay the night? Why did you leave without saying anything?”
He narrowed his eyes as he clapped a hand over my mouth to stop me from continuing. “Shut up, Persephone,” He hissed menacingly.
“That’s not how you make friends, Luca,” I mumbled under his hand.
He looked amused as he lowered his hand. “Friends? I don’t have any friends.”
“That’s hardly surprising.” I rolled my eyes. “You have no manners.”
“Manners? God, Persephone, it’s like you don’t realize this is Hell.”
“And is that a bad thing?”
“It can be very bad, and very dangerous.”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t.” He said gruffly.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, my eyebrows shooting up as I grinned. We were right back where we started.
He took a step back suddenly like I was a disease he couldn’t touch. “I won’t keep saving you.”
I slid down the wall, my legs as weak as jello. “I never asked you to.”
Luca stared at me disbelievingly, shaking his head and laughing. “I cannot believe you, Persephone Flemming. You’re unreal.”
“I’m plenty real,” I muttered under my breath.
Suddenly Luca filled my vision again, his hard body pinning me to the wall once more. His whiskey-scented breath invaded my nose. I shivered in response to the sensation. I closed my eyes, afraid of what he was going to do, but I felt something very unexpected; his fingertips brushing against my cheek softly. “No, Persephone, you can’t be, not in a place like this.”
“I’m real, Luca, I swear,” I whispered softly, as still as a statue under his touch.
“No, you aren’t.” His angry tone startling me. “This is just an act, isn’t it? Something Lucielle wanted you to do, to get revenge or something. I don’t know.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Luca? One minute, you’re relatively kind, and the next, you treat me like a piece of shit, the way you treat everyone else.”
He took a step away from me once again, steel eyes turning ferocious. His hand slipped from my face to my neck, pressing me into the wall further. “Lord Luca to you, girl, and that’s because you are like everyone else.”
I gulped, my airways constricted and eyes tearing up. The flashback of the man grabbing me hit me like the brick wall I was against. I started panicking, my breathing and heartbeat racing, any logical thoughts escaping me because, suddenly, the man grabbing me was not Luca, but the would-be rapist I met on the street. “No,” I cried, “please don’t!”
Luca faltered and dropped me. I crumbled onto the floor as I hyperventilated. He stood over me, not moving until I calmed down and could finally look up at him.
My eyes met his and they narrowed as I pushed myself up, seething, “Do not ever touch me again, Lord Luca, or I will find a way to kill you.”
He stared down at me with apathy, looking completely indifferent to my harsh words. Suddenly, there was this mad twinkle in his eye and he turned around, starting to walk away from me, murmuring under his breath, “Fire.”
“I hate you!” I yelled after him, completely meaning it.
Luca laughed at me. “The feeling’s mutual, my dear.”
“Fuck you.” I hissed.
“I thought you didn’t want to. Have a great afterlife, Persephone Flemming, I hope I never have the misfortune of meeting you again.”
I was at a loss and hated myself for letting him get the last word in as he disappeared around the bend and I was left alone, filled with feelings I couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
Either way, I couldn’t just stand here alone for the rest of the night. I picked myself up, plastered a pretty smile on my face. I debated going back to the bar but decided against it. I just wanted to go home and I needed Michael for that.
After several minutes of searching, I found Michael getting danced on by some random girl, who was also sliding her hand across the front of his jeans. I grabbed him and laughed when he looked back at the girl, disappointed. “Come on, boyfriend,” I teased, “Let’s go home.”
“Augh!” He grumbled and complained. “Why? I’m having fun, Persephone.”
The alcohol seems to have all but dissipated from my system and I didn’t feel very tired. “I can cook for you.” I winked, knowing he would be interested in that. He enjoyed my cooking.
“Okay, fine, you got me there. What will you make?”
“I’ll figure it out once we get home.”
“Not sure,” I replied, too quickly. “She’ll be fine, though.”
“She’s probably in the midst of hooking up with someone.” Michael laughed softly and shook his head.
“Probably,” I muttered as Michael pulled me by the hand to the doorway.
When we got home, I made Michael a nice dinner. The way we looked was almost laughable, both of us with our disheveled hair and ridiculously fancy dress clothes. My makeup was smeared away, though I figured Michael didn’t mind. There we were, him sitting at the counter in his tuxedo as I stirred the stir fry in my dress, my back to him. “I’m sorry for dragging you around with me.”
“It’s fine. I don’t mind at all. Just cook for me once in awhile and that’s more than enough.”
“I just don’t feel safe, you know?” I shivered from an imagined draft. “And the only time I do is when I’m with you.” I grimaced at how cheesy and romantic that sounded because it wasn’t meant that way. Michael didn’t say anything, so I continued on. “It’s sickening that men respect the property of other men, more than women. I have to look like your property to be somewhat respected, meaning, not get raped.”
When I turned around to gauge Michael’s reaction, he seemed a bit embarrassed, but then again, men always did when it came to the topic of rape. “I know it’s horrible, Persephone, but this is Hell. We’re bad people, all of us, and we’ve done bad things to get sent here. I’m sure most of these guys are in here for rape and it’s just the truth.”
“So, why are you so nice?”
“I’m not.” He replied instantaneously and cool.
My body’s reaction was to freeze in fear from the way he said it, but I forced myself to relax. I had my suspicions about him but this was my apartment. I was safe here. If anything happened, Lucielle would do something about it. “Then why are you doing all this stuff for me?”
“I started talking to you for my own purposes.” He grimaced, sipping the glass of whiskey I had given him.
He gave me a dry stare. “I was trying to get into your pants, Persephone.”
“Oh.” It was all I said as I frowned.
“And I know you’re not interested. Usually, I’d just drop girls like that. Before you and Fia getting here, I was bad, too. I was the epitome of guys in Hell.”
“So what changed?”
“You did,” He answered quickly. “Rather, I did. I guess I’m alright now. I don’t have the impulses, the addictions, anymore. Sex has always been nice, but here, it’s better; it’s addictive. Everything here is just so much more, the drugs give better highs, the booze keeps you drunk longer, and the food you could eat until your stomach literally burst open. I’ve seen that happen before, too.” Michael shuddered, his eyes taking on a haunted look as he sipped his glass again. “Hell infects people like a fucking disease. I know that, everyone knows that, but we don’t care. That’s what Hell is: greed and apathy. If you stay at your place all the time, you go crazy, if you go out, you go bad. There’s no winning. Usually within the first couple of days, the borderline people get bad, and the bad people get worse, but it’s like you’re immune to that and you help the people around you. You helped me, at least.”
I processed his words as the food was finished cooking, getting out plates and eating quietly with Michael. It was several moments before either of us uttered a sound. I was careful to chew as quietly as possible, but swallowed my food and drank some water to wash it down. There was nothing I could do about anything Michael had said and that terrified me. “I don’t think I belong here, Michael.”
“I don’t think so either.”