Joseph Abrams had thought he’d never have any luck with online dating, but damn if Zale Petropoulos wasn’t set on changing his mind.
Joseph’s experiences up until now had been tainted with an endless flow of egotistical jerks and unsolicited dick pics, and he was ready to give up. He figured there just weren’t any decent guys left out there in cyberspace and was contemplating canceling the dating service.
But then he found Zale.
Joseph first saw him while mindlessly scrolling through a list of potential partners, and a pair of piercing blue eyes and pouty lips immediately caught his attention. This guy was hot, movie star on the cover of magazines hot, and though he was certainly out of Joseph’s league, he had to click for a closer look.
Zale was the owner of those pretty blue eyes, and he was the most beautiful man Joseph had ever seen. Zale had a wicked smile, dark curly hair, gorgeous bronze skin, and a devilishly charming personality that managed to ooze through every pixel of his flawless profile pictures.
Oh, Joseph was definitely interested.
He skimmed over the rest of Zale’s profile and was soon picking out wallpaper patterns and naming all their future children. They liked the same obscure books, geeky television shows, and painfully cheesy jokes. Zale’s goal in life was to find someone to love forever and Joseph thought that was insanely romantic.
Zale’s job description was vague—a businessman in the imports business.
Whatever the hell that meant.
Joseph couldn’t believe he had so much in common with such an attractive guy. Sure, there were a few years between them, Zale being his senior by at least a decade, but he couldn’t resist that devilish grin.
He had to at least try.
Before Joseph could second-guess himself, he sent Zale a message.
He got up to make a snack and by the time he returned, he already had a response.
Zale wanted to meet him for dinner.
Joseph almost choked on his chips as he scrambled to reply. They hashed out plans to go out on Friday, though Joseph would have gone out that very night if Zale had offered. Joseph floated through the rest of the week, telling anyone and everyone who would listen how excited he was about his upcoming date.
Zale wanted to go get coffee first at Joseph’s favorite coffee shop so they could chat for a bit before heading out to dinner. Through his work, Zale was able to get reservations at a very exclusive restaurant and then they would finish off their evening with drinks and dancing at a hot local club.
It all sounded amazing and Joseph had never been so happy that he’d taken a chance on an internet dating profile.
Leading up to the big night, he and Zale traded at least a dozen more emails. Zale was easy to talk to, and Joseph loved how attentive he was. Zale always replied to every part of his messages and asked lots of questions, teasing that he wanted to learn everything about Joseph that he could. It was refreshing for someone to be so genuinely interested, and Joseph could not remember the last time he’d been so pumped for a date.
When the special night finally arrived, Joseph changed outfits three times before settling on a purple dress shirt, fitted jeans, and a black belt to match his boots. He wanted to look sharp but not too high maintenance. He threw on a splash of musky cologne and then he was out the door, stopping only to grab a jacket.
Fall was fast approaching and although the weather was expected to be pleasant, the evening had the potential to get quite chilly once the sun went down.
Joseph took a cab down to the coffee shop, wondering now if caffeine was a good way to start a date. He was already jittery as he walked inside, and he was certain coffee was only going to make it worse. He shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from fidgeting as he looked around for Zale.
“You look incredible,” a husky voice purred in his ear, “and here you were so worried.”
“Zale!” Joseph gasped, whirling around to find his date standing right behind him.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” Zale offered his arm and an apologetic smile.
Zale was a thousand times more gorgeous in person, and that warm smile was worth every penny of that damn subscription fee.
“Ha! Oh! It’s fine! Totally fine!” Joseph took a deep breath, trying to calm down as Zale led him over to a booth. “You can startle me any time you want. Any time at all.”
Zale grinned, and Joseph wanted to melt into the floor.
“You really do look amazing.” Zale eyed Joseph appreciatively as he sat beside him.
“Wow, thank you.” Joseph beamed. “For the record, you know, I was only a little worried because I knew you were going to be stunning.”
Stunning wasn’t quite the right word, but Joseph couldn’t think of any other adjective in the English language to capture how attractive Zale was.
He looked as if he’d walked right off the cover of a magazine, dressed impeccably in a crisp suit with diamonds in his cuffs and slick black shoes. He wore no tie and his shirt was unbuttoned just enough to be deliciously scandalous and reveal a silver chain glittering in his dark chest hair. From his shoes to his jewelry, it was clear that Zale was not wanting for much.
Except love, if he’d meant what he’d written in his profile.
“Well, we can keep arguing about who is more gorgeous,” Zale teased, “or we can just agree that we’re both beautiful beyond mortal comprehension?”
“Deal!” Joseph laughed, and his face heated up when Zale reached to take his hand.
“I’m so very happy you agreed to go out with me,” Zale said, his dazzling blue eyes burning into Joseph’s. “I do hope that you’ll enjoy our time together.”
“Oh, definitely.” Joseph smiled shyly. “I’m really, really enjoying it so far and it’s only been, like, five minutes.”
“I hope you don’t find this too forward, but I have a gift for you.”
“Yes.” Zale produced a small box from his coat and then slid it over the table to Joseph. “Open it.”
Joseph blinked, slowly removing the ribbon and cracking open the box. There was a distinct crown logo imprinted on the satin interior that he recognized immediately, and he gawked at the spectacular watch within. It was gold with ruby chips shining at every hour, exquisitely crafted, and probably cost more than what he made in six months.
“Zale!” Joseph drew his hands back and stared at the open box. “It’s… it’s…”
“Too much, I’m sure.” Zale chuckled, lifting the watch out. He took Joseph’s hand so he could fasten it around his wrist. “I wanted to thank you for all the time you’ve already spent on me and all the time to come.”
“It’s beautiful,” Joseph said at last. The sentiment touched his heart deeper than the obvious value of such a gift, and he was honestly stunned by both. “But I don’t have anything for you!”
“The pleasure of your company is a gift all on its own,” Zale replied with a warm smile.
“Thank you,” Joseph said sincerely. “Thank you so much.”
God bless the internet, he thought, for leading him to this wonderful man.
They kept chatting and ordered coffee, and Joseph couldn’t stop admiring his new watch. It was soon time to head to dinner, and Zale made a quick phone call to summon a limo for them.
Joseph felt positively spoiled and even more curious about what it was exactly that Zale did for a living to afford such luxury. He didn’t press, eager to get to dinner and enjoy the fancy food. Their dinner conversation soon turned into a heated discussion about their favorite sci-fi franchises, sharing their favorite corny jokes, and debating which fictional characters would win against who in a fight.
It was perfect.
After dinner, the limo took them downtown to Erebus. It was an exclusive club that was infamously difficult to get into, and crowds often lined up around the block for hours hoping for a chance. Joseph was nervous when Zale had the limo bring them right up front, wondering how long they would have to wait.
Apparently, not at all.
Zale offered his hand to help Joseph out and then led him directly to the entrance, cutting off the line entirely.
“Good evening, Mr. Petropoulos,” the bouncer greeted, moving the rope and letting them both through. He even opened the door for them.
“Whoa.” Joseph clung to Zale’s arm as they walked in. “The guy knows your name?”
“He should.” Zale chuckled. “I’m the one signing his paychecks.”
“Wait, you own this place?”
“One of my many business ventures,” Zale replied vaguely. “Now, the house special is a pomegranate martini. It’s my very own recipe and I’m dying for you to try it.”
Joseph let himself get whisked over to the bar, trying to remember to breathe. This was the best date he had ever been on and he half-expected to wake up and find it was all a lovely dream. Until then, he wanted to enjoy every second of it.
The club was dark and oddly somber despite the frantically popping bass. It was decorated in bright colors, lush and gorgeous, and yet there was still something almost macabre about it that Joseph couldn’t quite place.
Maybe it was how cold it was in spite of the thick crowd of people or how the patrons at the bar seemed so depressed. Even the people on the dance floor looked unhappy no matter how passionately their bodies were gyrating.
Joseph didn’t think much more about it, his focus returning to Zale. His mood was too bright to be dimmed by the gloomy atmosphere. He was eager to try the drink and sipped it to prepare himself for the burn of booze.
Surprisingly, it was sweet and smooth—so smooth that Joseph swallowed nearly half the glass in one gulp.
“Didn’t like it?” Zale teased.
“Not at all,” Joseph replied with a grin. “It was just awful.” He finished it off and then asked politely, “May I have another?”
Joseph accepted the new drink from the speedy bartender, laughing as he promised, “I’ll actually take my time with this one!”
“I’m glad you like it.” Zale was drinking a glass of wine so dark it was black.
Joseph got distracted by the strange hue.
Was it really black? Or wait, was it pink? No, it was purple.
Joseph stared, watching the liquid changing color before his very eyes.
Before he could ask what it was, Zale grabbed his hand and led him to the dance floor. Joseph forgot all about the weird wine, chugging down his second martini and leaving the empty glass on a nearby table as they slipped into the crowd.
Zale’s arms slipped around Joseph’s waist, and he pressed their hips close and rocked them to the thundering music. Joseph let himself get lost in Zale’s arms, and they danced for several songs, with brief trips back to the bar to refuel.
Joseph promised himself that his sixth martini would be his last, happily buzzing as he and Zale took another spin around the floor. He loved how their bodies moved together, and his hands bravely explored the broad lines of Zale’s shoulders and chest.
Zale had kept his hands at respectable levels so far this evening, but now his fingers were dipping lower along Joseph’s hips and teasing over the top of his ass. Zale leaned in close and whispered in his ear, “Would you like to go somewhere more… private?”
Zale took Joseph’s hand, pressing a kiss to it as he guided him back out of the sea of people. There was a door behind the bar and on the other side was a long staircase leading up.
Joseph had all sorts of ideas of what might be waiting at the top of those stairs, and he was excited. He was definitely interested in finding out if Zale’s skills on the dance floor applied to other areas, and Joseph resisted the urge to pump his fist in the air when they walked in and he saw a big bed.
The room was a suite of some sort, so lush that Joseph’s only comparisons were the grand hotel penthouses that criminals always seemed to have in the movies. There was a large silk screen set up beside an ornate mahogany desk, a cozy sitting area with glass top tables and plush furniture, and tucked away behind a wall of thick curtains was a king-sized bed.
“Zale?” Joseph swayed against him. He couldn’t believe he was actually standing in a place so fine. “Are you a drug dealer?”
“No.” Zale snickered, obviously amused. “My business, while a tad clandestine, is perfectly legal.”
“Don’t suppose you’re ever going to share what exactly that business is?”
“Perhaps I can show you.” Zale strolled toward the silk screen by his desk. He pushed the screen back, revealing a mannequin draped in jewels.
It was an elaborate necklace—a thick collar with dozens of long golden chains glittering with countless diamonds. They were all of varying lengths, some dangling well below the edge of the mannequin’s base.
Joseph’s jaw dropped as he came closer to inspect the extraordinary piece. “What is this?”
“It’s said to have once graced the body of Ganymede himself,” Zale replied with a mysterious grin. “Crafted for him by Hephaestus on the personal order of Zeus.”
“Wow,” Joseph breathed, instinctively drawing his hands to his sides as if he might accidentally bump into the mannequin and disturb the beautiful piece. “It’s incredible. It’s… it’s what? Something you’re selling?”
“I helped acquire it for a very special client. That’s sort of what I do. I help find things that people want.”
“Huh. What would you even wear with something like that?” Joseph wondered out loud.
“Nothing.” Zale chuckled.
“You’d wear that and nothing else.”
“Would you like to try it on?” Zale asked. “You don’t have to strip completely, of course, but it’s not being sent out for a few more days.”
“Really?” Joseph grinned. “You’d let me put that on?”
“It’s literally worth, like, freakin’ millions.”
“Mmm, but the joy of seeing you in it would be priceless,” Zale countered, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Yeah?” Joseph blushed a million shades of red, but he unbuttoned his shirt. “Well, if you insist.”
Zale took Joseph’s shirt and his new watch, setting them aside before lifting the massive necklace off the mannequin. He stepped behind him, gingerly draping it around his neck and fastening the thick collar.
Joseph shivered, an instant response to the cool metal touching his skin and having Zale in such close proximity to his body. He exhaled slowly, watching all the delicate chains glittering over his lean torso and gasping in awe.
It was lighter than he thought it would be, and he turned to find his reflection in a mirror he hadn’t noticed before. The gold looked marvelous with his complexion and he felt beautiful enough to be a consort for a god.
Although Zale was right. It was something meant to be worn on its own. His slacks and old shoes looked a little silly in contrast to the fancy jewelry even though he loved how Zale was looking at him right now.
The date had been so perfect, beyond compare, and Joseph already knew exactly how he wanted it to end.
His fingers unbuckled his belt and then went for his fly, releasing the button and zipper. He pushed his pants and underwear down in one quick swoop, kicking his way out of them along with his shoes. He could feel the longest chains dangling against his groin now, cool against the sensitive skin.
Zale’s eyes narrowed, scanning over Joseph’s bare body with a startling hunger. He made no move toward him, but he was tense, as if he might pounce at any second. “You look… divine.”
Joseph stepped into Zale’s arms, the chains softly jingling as he moved. He slid his hands up his chest and nuzzled at his cheek as he whispered, “Thank you.”
Zale’s lips brushed over Joseph’s, his breath cool as he murmured in reply, “The pleasure is all mine, I assure you.”
Joseph took one last look at those pretty blue eyes and let himself get lost in their awesome depths. They were the color of Arctic waters, frigid and endless, yet sparkling with a power that made Joseph’s knees so very weak.
He took a breath and kissed Zale.
He kissed him firmly, possessively, their bodies grinding back together like when they were dancing. He could feel the press of Zale’s bare skin, but never even saw him take off his clothes. There was his cock, right there, big and hard, nudging at his own as their hips collided.
Joseph thought perhaps he’d had too much to drink, but his mind was clear other than being flooded with amorous inclinations. He let himself be distracted by Zale’s tongue, and he sucked it deep into his mouth as they kissed.
His back was suddenly being pressed into the mattress, and he found himself in bed with Zale over top of him. Zale felt strong and warm, and Joseph moaned at the pressure building down in his loins from the friction of their hips.
The chains of diamonds were jingling, riding up on his chest as Zale’s hand slid between his legs. There was warmth, a wet and slick stretch inside of him, then more pressure as Zale’s cock fit itself there.
It was smooth and painless, Joseph’s body opening up effortlessly to let Zale inside. Zale’s cock was hot and thick, pushing Joseph to his limit in a single thrust and making him see stars with every one that followed after. It was all happening so fast and Joseph wanted more.
He moaned without care, amazed at how Zale already seemed to know his body so intimately. He knew where to touch, where to kiss, and the precise angle to move that would wrench the most shameful sounds from his lips.
It was divine.
Zale rolled them over so Joseph was on top of him, reconnecting their bodies and guiding Joseph’s hips. Joseph adjusted to the new position with ease and began to ride him hard. The necklace was a shimmering mess of movement between them, the longest chains brushing Joseph’s cock.
He crazily wondered if he should care about the precome he was certainly leaking all over the fine jewelry, but Zale didn’t seem to mind so he ignored the thought.
Joseph lifted his arms up above his head, his thighs powering his movements as he took in the fantastic slew of sensations. Millions of dollars worth of diamonds draped over his body with the best dick he’d ever had making him ache in the sweetest way was pretty damn amazing.
Zale kept them moving, shifting Joseph onto his hands and knees now to take him from behind. His strong hands squeezed Joseph’s ass and grabbed his collar, forcing him back on his cock again and again. Joseph clawed at the sheets, crying out excitedly.
He could feel himself getting close, but damn if Zale wasn’t ready to finish yet. It seemed like he had every intention of going all night. He changed their positions again, now spreading Joseph on his back and lifting his long legs over his shoulders.
As Zale slid back into Joseph’s tight hole, Joseph had to frantically grab his dick and squeeze it hard to keep from busting on the spot. “Holy shit, Zale.”
“You’re incredible.” Zale kissed Joseph’s calf, adoring and sweet, rolling his hips slowly and letting each thrust drag.
“Me? Heh!” Joseph laughed breathlessly, his toes curling at a particularly pleasurable angle. “You feel so good. Mmm… I could do this forever.”
“Careful what you wish for,” Zale warned with a sly grin, leaning down to seek a passionate kiss.
Joseph wrapped his arms around Zale’s neck as his knees hit his shoulders. The tender thrusts couldn’t last long, but it was fantastic while they did. He’d never felt this connected to anyone, certain he would never know this level of passion in anyone else’s bed.
The end was coming for them both, and a few quick slams and the twist of Zale’s hand on his dick sent Joseph spiraling into bliss. Maybe it was the magic of the moment, but Joseph’s orgasm didn’t seem to end. It kept going for much longer than any climax he’d ever had, and he was left shaking from the rush.
Wrecked and breathless, he smothered his cries in Zale’s lips. Zale came then, groaning low as his cock flooded Joseph’s hole with a hot load. Their bodies slid together, slick with perspiration, as they dragged the ecstasy on for as long as possible. The diamond chains pressed into Joseph’s skin, a unique sensation that only added to the growing pleasure. It was beautiful, perfect, and Joseph knew he was ruined for any other lover.
Zale seemed to know it too. He had the smuggest little smile on his face, kissing Joseph before pulling away to tidy up. He put the jewelry away, wiped them both down, and then slid back into bed beside him.
Joseph was somewhere up in the clouds, flushed and sore, smiling from ear to ear. The satisfaction of their tryst was resonating down in his bones, and he stretched with a loud grunt.
“I take it you enjoyed yourself?” Zale asked.
“Mmm, and then some,” Joseph promised. “This has been a freakin’ dream come true. Like, I’m afraid I’m going to wake up and find out my fairy godmother just pulled a fast one, you know?”
“I can assure you that fairies had nothing to do with this.” Zale laughed.
Joseph heard a clock chiming in the distance, realizing it had to be midnight by now. He grinned, rolling over to throw his arm over Zale. “Are you sure you’re not going to turn into a pumpkin?”
“Not quite,” Zale said softly, something strained in his expression. “Not a pumpkin anyway.”
Joseph frowned, about to ask what was wrong when the last bell chimed. His arm suddenly went through Zale’s torso as if he was nothing but air, his body shimmering all over like a poorly projected hologram.
The image adjusted itself as Joseph backed away, and he stared at Zale in horror. “Zale? What… what the fuck?”
“It’s the end of summer,” Zale replied, as if that somehow explained everything. “My vessel has been forfeited.”
“Huh?” Joseph bolted upright, shaking fingers reaching out to touch Zale again. Moments ago they had been in a passionate embrace and he’d been able to feel every inch of Zale’s beautiful body and taste him and smell him.
Now he was like a ghost.
Joseph’s hand passed through him like sliding through smoke. The image of Zale flickered as before, and Joseph was absolutely terrified.
“What’s happening?” Joseph demanded, fear freezing his voice and breaking it into stuttering fragments. “What… wh… what are you?”
“Brides are hard to come by these days,” Zale drawled in reply. “Modern times have forced me to entertain the world of internet courting.” He rose out of bed, a long black robe magically appearing to cover his body. “Every year I have to find a new one, you see.”
“A new what…?” Joseph squeaked.
“I need someone to help me collect the pieces,” Zale explained. “My vessel deteriorates every autumn equinox and must be renewed by spring or no new life can be given to the world. Death and rebirth, the most ancient cycle of the seasons, is tied directly to my flesh.”
Joseph was up on his feet and out of bed, frantically searching for his clothes as he laughed hysterically. “Oh! Right! Why wouldn’t it be?”
“It has been so for thousands of years.” Zale was pouring himself a glass of his color-shifting wine over by the desk, not paying any mind to Joseph’s obvious intent to flee. “And it will be so for thousands more.”
“Look, thanks for the date,” Joseph said as he got dressed at lightning speed. “I love the watch, dinner was cool, and I had a super great time! I’ll call you, okay?”
“You can’t leave.”
“See,” Joseph said with a click of his tongue, “now you’re just starting to sound a little nuts—”
“Not until spring arrives,” Zale cut in. “You have six months to complete my vessel and restore the seasons. Only then will you be able to leave my kingdom.”
“Your kingdom?” Joseph couldn’t take another word of this nonsense. He had been such a fool and he was sick to his stomach for thinking he could have something real with Zale.
He marched toward the door with a short huff. “You take care of yourself, Zale. Get some help.”
Zale made no move to go after him, sipping his drink patiently.
Joseph grabbed the knob and flung open the door, stopping right in his tracks. Instead of leading to the stairs, the door now opened up into a giant cave.
Mammoth and lit by an eerie blue glow, the cave went on as far as Joseph could see. There were people, certainly in the hundreds, with tools in their hands as they mined away at the rock around them. They were bound in chains, many of them wailing and crying, and every last one of them…
They were dead.
Their eyes were lifeless despite the agony of their howling, and Joseph could see right through their bodies. Some were more opaque than others, a few mere wisps of a human form, but all of them were spirits.
Joseph couldn’t believe what he was seeing, backing away and gasping when he smacked into Zale, who had come up right behind him. “What the fuck is going on?” he demanded, trying not to let his fear show through. “What the fuck are you? You’re not some imports dealer! This… this is… What the fuck is this?”
“Joseph,” Zale said, the faintest hint of sympathy in his expression. “Let me explain. I’m not really Zale Petropoulos, you see. I have many names that mankind has used over the millennia. Pluton, Osiris, Hades…”
“Hades,” Joseph echoed, staring at the gaggle of spirits before whirling back on Zale. “Hades, god of the Underworld? Hades, brother of Zeus? Hades and Persephone? That Hades?”
So much for a perfect first date.