The rest of Joseph’s tour was brief and honestly a bit uncomfortable. Whatever good mood Zale was in before had apparently been tainted by his brother’s party planning, and now it seemed like he just wanted to get all of this over with.
Joseph saw flowing rivers and luminescent springs, glittering forests and quiet clearings, and he was surprised by how much beauty there was to be found in the land of the dead. Though they didn’t linger at any one location, Joseph hoped they could go back to them sometime. They visited countless caverns filled with souls, basking in the warm glow from all the little Heavens.
Or were some of these Hells?
Joseph couldn’t tell the difference since they all looked the same.
They eventually came to the cave Joseph had seen that first night, the one filled with wailing spirits toiling away. The noise was awful, and Joseph really didn’t want to stay here long.
“Who are these people?” he asked. “Is this… is this like Purgatory?”
“No,” Zale replied. “These are souls that have wronged the gods.”
“Fuck,” Joseph hissed under his breath. “You just keep them here? Forever?”
“Or until the offended god forgets about their transgressions and I’m able to help them move on to a final resting place.”
“That’s nice, I guess.” Joseph made a face. “Do all the gods do this? Are some of these yours?”
“I keep mine in my club. Instead of digging away here in the earth, they have to dance forever in complete agony until I’m bored of them.”
“Why… why would you do that?” Joseph demanded, his stomach twisting up tightly.
“You need to remember who and what I am,” Zale replied coldly. “I have to set an example to the other gods and their mortal followers. I will not tolerate disrespect. I keep those who have wronged me on full display as a reminder.”
“That’s horrible!” Joseph gasped. “How can you be that cruel?”
“Joseph,” Zale warned. “This is exactly why I don’t want my brother filling your head with any ideas.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The party. Nothing good can come from consorting with the gods. We are not warm and fluffy, all right? We are not always kind.”
“Oh, yeah,” Joseph griped. “I got that part.”
“And while finding my heart first is unique, it means nothing,” Zale went on, his words carrying a bite. “Whatever lingering fantasy you may still have, all of this is just a means to an end, do you understand?”
“Fine,” Joseph snapped back. “Message received. You’re an asshole, all the gods are assholes, got it. Don’t worry. You make it impossible to forget.”
They were staring at each other so intently that Joseph struggled not to think about kissing Zale. No, that was stupid. Zale was an epic jerk and didn’t deserve any damn kisses.
Even so, it was difficult to deny the attraction and the hungry way Zale was staring at him.
“What else?” Joseph asked quickly, eager to break the boiling tension. “What else is there to see?”
“I think you’ve seen enough. Unless you sense any more pieces?”
“No, I haven’t felt anything since I found the first one.”
“It takes time.”
“Trust me, I’ll let you know as soon as I do.” Joseph looked away, silently fuming and fighting inside his head. “I want to go home as soon as possible.”
Zale took them back to the suite, acting as if he was in a big hurry. “I’ll have lunch sent up for you. The phone on that desk will reach me personally if you sense any more pieces.”
“Can’t wait,” Joseph said, flopping into bed face down. He grumbled into the pillows for a moment before he lifted his head, surprised to see Zale still standing there. “What?”
“Do you need anything else?” Zale asked.
“No.” Joseph frowned. “Unless… What if I still wanted to go to the party?”
“I won’t stop you. You’re more than welcome to—” Zale shrugged with disinterest. “—but I will not be joining you.”
“Ah, too busy brooding and doing depressing god of the dead things?” Joseph guessed dryly.
“Cute.” Zale snorted. He turned to leave but then paused. “If you’d like… When I’m done with my errands, you could dine with me,” he offered casually.
“Huh?” Joseph rolled over and sat up.
That certainly didn’t sound like something the brooding god of the dead would say.
“Dinner,” Zale said. “With me.”
“You want me to come eat with you?” Joseph stared. “Is this your very lame way of trying to apologize for being such a jerk?”
“It’s dinner.” Zale shrugged. “That’s all.”
“Not another date?”
“Dinner.” Zale sighed, turning his head away to add, “There’s no need to complicate this. My other brides weren’t so difficult—”
“Well, maybe your other brides weren’t so sure they’d found someone really special!” Joseph snarled, any pretense of being cordial lost. He felt insulted, and his anger bubbled right over.
“Special?” Zale didn’t seem to know what to even make of the word.
“For fuck’s sake!” Joseph bolted to his feet, wishing he could grab Zale and shake him. He knew his hands would pass right through him, but he still swatted at him to vent some of his anger.
“What?” Zale raised an unimpressed brow.
“Yes! This is a fertile land!” Joseph suddenly declared. “We will thrive! We will rule over all this land! And we will call it…” He paused for effect. “This land!”
Zale looked away, but he grumpily chimed in, “I think we should call it your grave.”
“See?” Joseph gestured helplessly. “Special. Like, who else is gonna know Firefly that well and quote it with me? I thought we really had a connection. And you keep sending all of these mixed signals.”
“What are you talking about?” Zale demanded, genuinely confused.
“Make up your mind!” Joseph groaned. “Do you want to be my husband or my friend? Because right now, you sort of suck at both. You can’t be a total dill hole, tell me this is all just a means to an end, and then turn around and ask me to dinner.”
“I was trying to apologize.”
“Then just say it!”
“Ugh!” Joseph groaned in exasperation. “I’m not going to eat with you unless you tell me it means something or you actually apologize.”
“As you wish.” Zale grunted. “Enjoy the party. I’m sure it will be lovely.”
“See, that. That right there. You ever hear that one song by Katy Perry? ‘Hot And Then Total Douche’? That’s you.”
Zale didn’t even crack a smile. “I will have a special place waiting for Miss Perry,” he growled in a dangerously low tone.
“What the hell!” Joseph snapped. “Are you serious? Just, ugh, just go. Go do your weird dead things and leave me alone.”
Zale gave one last departing glare and vanished without another word.
Joseph stood up and then stomped towards the door. He was frustrated and hoped to drown some of his anger in a drink from the bar downstairs.
He opened the door to a horde of screaming souls.
“Oh, shut up!” Joseph groaned as he slammed the door shut.
He retreated back to bed to make a nest of pillows and pout.
So much for getting a damn drink.
Joseph didn’t know what to make of his increasingly confusing situation. It made his heart and his head hurt, and he wished spring was here already. He knew that spring wouldn’t come without having to, ulgh, handle more body parts…
But the heart.
Finding Zale’s heart first had to mean something. In spite of Zale’s protests, Joseph found himself still hopeful. There had to be something here. Maybe Zale really wasn’t that perfect guy he had gone to bed with, but some part of it had to be real.
All Joseph had ever wanted was someone to understand him, to enjoy life with him, and damn, did he want that person to be Zale.
Stupid, he silently chastised himself, to think otherwise.
Regular mortal men never seemed to want him, so why would a god?
Joseph heard a crinkle, and he looked up from his nest. There was a large shopping bag resting at the foot of the bed with a golden JG imprinted on the side. He recognized the logo as Jayden Glamore’s immediately.
He dragged the bag toward himself to peek inside, and he flinched when he heard Jayden’s sweet voice teasing, “You really do love this stuff, huh?”
Joseph found him sitting on the bed beside him, and he tried not to be freaked out by Jayden’s magical appearance as he replied, “Yeah, but it’s normally a birthday splurge, you know?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Jayden winked. “There is a family discount, you know.”
“I’m only gonna be family until spring,” Joseph reminded him as he pulled out a jar of face mask cream. He opened the jar to smell it, basking in his favorite cucumber melon scent.
“Are you really sure about that?” Jayden asked casually.
“Pretty sure,” Joseph muttered as he put the lid back on. “Your brother is making it very clear that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, okay? I’m just another groom or whatever for the season.”
“He’s a stubborn idiot,” Jayden declared, clapping his hands. In a blink, they were both swaddled in thick robes and had the face mask smeared all over their faces. He offered Joseph a glass of wine. “You have to understand he’s made himself believe that he’ll never be happy again.”
Joseph accepted the wine and nearly chugged the whole thing. The glass began to fill back up on its own.
Huh, all this godly power stuff was kinda nifty.
“Why?” Joseph asked. “Is it because of Persephone?”
“Yup,” Jayden said with a click of his tongue. “When she left him, it really fucked him up. He wouldn’t speak to anyone for decades.”
“I don’t wanna be that guy, but, eh, didn’t he kidnap Persephone? I don’t see kidnapping as a very good way to start a long-term relationship.”
“Kidnapped her willingly.” Jayden laughed. “They had fallen in love but Persephone’s family didn’t want her marrying the dreary old god of the dead. So, he came up and grabbed her so they could be married in secret.”
“Aw, that’s actually really sweet. I like that version of the story so much better.”
“It’s the truth!” Jayden insisted. “And they were so happy, for thousands of years.”
“Sometimes, I think it’s as simple as some people fall out of love.” Jayden smiled sadly. “Persephone just didn’t love him anymore. So, she left.”
“That sucks.” Joseph swigged back a big mouthful of wine. “You know, your brother told me not to listen to you. He said that you’re just filling my head with nonsense.”
“It’s only nonsense because he’s a big jerk and he’s not over Persephone.” Jayden snorted. “He can’t see what’s obviously right in front of him.”
“You!” Jayden giggled. “Finding his heart first is a big deal.”
“I don’t know.” Joseph fidgeted, picking at the edge of the mask where it was starting to dry. “He’s already so confusing. I don’t want to get hurt again or get my hopes up.”
“Oh, shush.” Jayden waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. Just leave everything to me! I’m a love god, remember?”
“You’re going to play matchmaker with me and your brother?” Joseph frowned. “You don’t even know me!”
“I don’t have to. You found the heart!”
“What’s the big deal about the heart?”
“The brides always find what they love most about my brother,” Jayden explained with a sweet smile. “Whatever it is that they most desire. Usually it’s his hands, for the wealth he can give them. Sometimes, his arms because of the protection they offer. And well, ahem, other bits for the other stuff, okay?”
“Got it!” Joseph blushed, realizing now he would have to find those pieces eventually.
“But you found his heart,” Jayden went on, taking Joseph’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “You want him. Not the riches or the dick, you really want to be with him. And once he pulls his head out of his ass, he’ll realize he’s wasting a big fuckin’ chance at happily ever after.”
“We’ll see,” Joseph said softly, his chest full of flutters at the very thought. He had the god of love on his side—certainly that had to help?
“Damn right!” Jayden cheered. “Now, finish your wine! We’ve gotta get ready for the party!”
Spending the day with a capricious god made the time fly right by. After their face masks and wine, Jayden brought in countless racks of fancy designer clothes for them to try on. They chatted about movies and celebrities, bitched about men and life in general. Joseph couldn’t believe how much he and Jayden had in common, secretly hoping this budding friendship would survive whatever happened when spring came.
As the hour grew late, Jayden helped Joseph narrow down an outfit to wear to the party. They eventually settled on slim-fitting black slacks and a dark blue dress shirt. Jayden made sure he left the top few buttons of the shirt undone, leaving his chest bare and giving him a black necklace dripping with sapphires.
The metal was thick, twisted into long vines that curled around each gem.
“Holy crap,” Joseph breathed, touching the cool metal as Jayden snapped it into place. “This is awesome. Thank you.”
“Perfect,” Jayden gushed with a triumphant snap of his fingers. “Still masculine, but oh, so delicate and gorgeous. Beautiful and powerful and yes, blue is Zale’s favorite color. He’s gonna love it.”
“But he isn’t coming to the party.” Joseph blinked.
“Pffft. You clearly don’t know my brother as well as I thought you did. He’s gonna pout for a while and then show up later like nothing ever happened.”
“You really think so?”
“Oh, yes.” Jayden smiled smugly. “Trust me.”
Joseph wasn’t sure how wise it was to trust a god, especially since he knew all too well how trusting an immortal being turned out for him last time. He tried desperately to cling to hope, no matter how silly it seemed.
He could still remember how excited he was to get every single one of Zale’s emails and how he’d daydreamed about putting together the perfect Star Wars themed nursery for their future adopted children. Yes, it was a little extreme, but Zale was just…
Well, he was perfect.
Jayden magically transported them down into the club, and the gloomy atmosphere had changed completely. The dreary souls were now obscured by a thick crowd of vibrant dancers. Everyone was beautiful, dressed impeccably, and Joseph realized he was in the presence of more immortals.
No normal human beings could be this fantastic.
“Come on, Joseph!” Jayden took Joseph’s hand. “It’s time to meet your in-laws!”
Joseph had no choice but to follow Jayden’s lead and chug shots along the way, shaking hands and hugging, doing his best to keep up with the rush of people. Some proudly introduced themselves by the godly names the world had previously worshiped them as, others simply gave their modern moniker.
Montu-Ares was a suave man with a dangerous smile who coached professional football.
Lauren was an aerospace engineer who seemed particularly obsessed with the moon.
Loki-Hermes went by the mortal name of Taylor and judging by the way he and Jayden greeted each other with a swap of tongue, he was very close to the love god.
Joseph wished everyone was wearing name tags, but despite not being able to remember their names he was having a great time. They all had so many questions for him, they wanted to have drinks, and many promised him lovely gifts.
Joseph leaned in close to Jayden, whispering loudly, “That one guy just offered me a plane!”
“Who?” Jayden followed where Joseph pointed and giggled. “Barney? He’s a record producer. He can afford it!”
“Why is everyone being so nice to me?!”
“Because they know you’re gonna be super chummy with my brother, and he is very, very powerful.”
“Is it like the stories? The three brothers who divided all the kingdoms between them? Hades, Poseidon, and—”
“You’ve already met Poseidon! She’s over there!” Jayden pointed. “She prefers to be called Paula now, just so you know.”
“Oh. Got it.”
Taylor approached with a tray full of shots. “An offering for my god of love.”
“Thank you, darling.” Jayden winked as he took a shot and passed one over to Joseph.
“Thanks.” Joseph paused, watching Jayden and Taylor exchange another heated kiss. “Okay, I gotta know. Is everyone all super related or uh, no?”
“It’s probably better if you don’t know.” Taylor snickered. “But not all of the gods were born gods, if that helps. Some of us were chosen to ascend.”
“Yeah.” Taylor nodded. “As in, we were mortal and got our godhood membership card. Usually happens with marriage. Helps the family tree get some branches and stay out of straight line territory.”
“Oh, okay,” Joseph said, too tipsy to even think on the prospect of immortality without squealing like a child. “So, okay, okay, I know Hades. And oh, Poseidon is a chick named Paula. That still leaves one brother.”
Jayden made a face. “You mean King of the Douches himself?”
“The Emperor of Man Slutdom?” Taylor chimed in.
“The Vicar of Venereal Diseases?”
“Zeus!” Joseph laughed, blushing at the ridiculous titles. “I’m talking about Zeus!”
“Someone calling for me?” a gorgeous man teased as he magically appeared in between Jayden and Joseph, gazing over Joseph ravenously. His beauty rivaled even Zale’s, boasting a strong jaw and lusty green eyes that made Joseph’s loins clench.
“Uh… uh…” Joseph stammered, taking a step back.
“I go by Lance now,” he said, “but you can call me Zeus if you’d prefer. Whatever you decide to moan out later is fine by me. I’m not picky.”
Jayden quickly intervened, snapping, “Lance, no! He’s Zale’s groom for the season!”
“Oh, so I’ve heard.” Lance leaned around Jayden, smiling and eyeing Joseph still. “Found his heart after a steamy night of passion. Tell me, Joseph. How does making love to a god compare to mortal men?”
“It’s, uh, it was fine,” Joseph squeaked anxiously.
“Just fine?” Lance laughed. “How would you like to experience the pleasures that a real god can show you, hmm?”
“Ugh, you’re disgusting!” Jayden groaned as he pushed Lance away. “Go find someone else to harass!”
Lance vanished away and reappeared in front of Joseph. He traced Joseph’s necklace, brushing his fingers over Joseph’s chest. “I think I’ve already made up my mind. I like this one.”
Joseph curled up his lip and smacked Lance’s hand away, snapping, “Get your hands off me!”
“Oh-ho-ho!” Lance was absolutely delighted. “I really like him!”
“Lance.” Jayden raised his hand and summoned a ball of golden sparks. “I’m not kidding. He’s Zale’s and I’m not going to—”
“Please,” Lance scoffed, waving his hand as lightning casually danced over his fingertips. “What’s Zale gonna do? We all know he only gets laid once a year and he drops his brides off as fast as he can—”
“But Joseph found his heart!” Jayden growled. “This time is different! I’m not letting you mess this up—”
“Mess what up? There’s nothing to ruin, dear sweet brother! Now, let me have a little fun.”
“No!” Jayden narrowed his eyes and golden light enveloped his body. “You’re not touching him!”
Joseph backed away, and he turned to stumble toward the bar. He did not want to get in between two battling immortals, and he’d had way too much to drink. His head was swimming and he found an empty barstool, plopping down and hanging his head.
Lightning shot down from the ceiling and there was an explosion of golden glitter raining over everything. Most of the guests were laughing, cheering for either Jayden or Lance, and the music continued to pump throughout their battle.
Maybe Zale was right.
Joseph wasn’t ready to party with gods.
He flinched as a glass slid in front of him, looking up to see a blonde woman perched on the stool beside him.
She was very beautiful, but definitely dangerous. Joseph could tell immediately from the wicked sparkle in her eyes. Despite her small frame, he could feel the strength oozing off of her.
A goddess, had to be.
Joseph hesitantly accepted the drink, mumbling, “Th-thank you… uh… Have we met?”’
“No,” she said, offering her hand out with an all too friendly smile. “Hi. It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Persephone.”