Shoulda Swiped Left: Chapter 04

Chapter 4.

“Persephone?” Joseph squeaked.

“I prefer Penelope now.”

“So, you’re… Zale’s ex-wife?” Joseph felt so stupid for stating the obvious, but he didn’t know what else to say.

“I am,” she confirmed. “I came to meet the new groom who was special enough to find his heart.”

“Why?” Joseph blinked, fidgeting anxiously in his seat.

“There aren’t many happy endings for mortals who fraternize with gods,” she said sternly. “What’s your game here? Are you trying to get at his money? His power?”

“What? No!” Joseph shook his head. “It’s not like that at all! I didn’t know who he really was when we first met! I just, I just thought he was some guy!”

“Some guy?” she pressed.

“Some incredible, dreamy, dorky guy.” Joseph sighed, sinking against the bar. “A guy who liked all the same television shows I did, who could quote my favorite movies, and who had all the same dreams I did. All I wanted was a chance at a happily ever after. Don’t you get it? I thought what we had… I know it wasn’t for very long, but I thought it was real.”

Penelope was quiet for a moment, apparently thinking over Joseph’s response. She leaned forward, asking, “During your internet courting, you really had no idea who he really was?”

“No,” Joseph insisted. “He was just a normal guy who wanted to take me in a manly fashion!”

Penelope looked confused.

“It’s a Firefly thing,” Joseph explained. “I mean, uh, we had a lot in common and he was sexy and kind and… I just… Well, you know, don’t you?”


“You were married to him for thousands of years,” Joseph said with a slow blink. “You must know what he’s like… uh…”

“Oh?” Penelope stared expectantly. “And how is he?”

“Kind, creative, generous, funny… um…” Joseph suddenly didn’t know what to do with his hands, fumbling for words. “Passionate, oh, yeah, so very passionate.”

“Passionate? Uh huh.” Penelope smirked. “Even at the bitter end, that was the one thing he and I could always get right.”

“He was, yeah, uh, wow.” Joseph ran his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, I’m going to go with wow.”

“Rocked your little mortal world, did he?”

“Oh, indeed he did.” Joseph grinned. “I mean, all freakin’ night long! And wow, is he a good kisser, and then he had my legs like way up here and, and…” He cleared his throat, adding awkwardly, “Sorry, I made this weird. Did I make it weird? I did.”

“It’s all right.” Penelope chuckled, her tense posture relaxing now. “I think it’s quite charming how clearly smitten you are. Explains why you found his heart. Tell me. Do you really want to stay here with Zale?”

“Huh?” Joseph stared. “You mean stay here after spring? But he told me that he’ll divorce me—”

“Do you want to stay with him or not?” Penelope asked firmly.

“I don’t know,.” Joseph’s insides twisted. He wanted that happy ending back so badly, a chance to be with the Zale he had been so crazy about. They’d had so much fun together. Joseph had treasured every email, and finally meeting Zale in person had been a dream come true.

Too bad none of it had been real.

“I don’t think I can,” Joseph said quickly. “I really just want to go home. I hope he meant it about the being rich stuff because I’ve probably already been fired by now and—”

“You’re already in love with him, aren’t you?” Penelope suddenly accused, peering at Joseph’s face with a knowing smile. “This wasn’t luck or some fluke. You really do love him.”

“What?” Joseph squeaked. “What? No! That’s crazy! We only had the one date and Zale told me that it was all bullshit—”

“And you believed him?” 

“Why wouldn’t I?” Joseph snapped, stung by the implication. “Who would say something like that just to screw around with someone?”

“Someone whose heart was broken and still hasn’t healed,” Penelope replied somberly.

Joseph wanted to say something—anything—but he was struggling to find the right words. It wasn’t his fault that Zale had been hurt. It was Penelope’s, so why did he have to suffer for it? Shouldn’t Penelope be the one feeling like utter crap right now?

Joseph stumbled off the barstool and then gathered himself up to his full height to give this goddess a piece of his alcohol-addled mind.

But then his barstool caught on fire.

“Shit!” he yelped, scrambling to get out of the way as the stool promptly combusted into smoldering ashes.

The entire club had erupted into chaos, and flames and lightning flashed all over the place. The music stopped, and the lights above the bar flickered and then turned off. It was suddenly very easy to tell mortals apart from the gods since only one small group of people were hiding and the rest were fighting.

A scattered few remained on the dance floor, gyrating away despite the lack of music and the destruction raging around them—Zale’s damned souls, still trapped in place by his power and unable to flee.

Not that they had anything to worry about, Joseph thought crazily. They were already dead.

“The bar!” Penelope shouted. “Get behind it!”

Joseph vaulted over as instructed, but his foot caught the edge of the counter and he ended up landing flat on his face. He groaned, dragging himself into a crouched position next to the ice chest, and hoped the fighting would end soon.

There was an explosion powerful enough to rock the very foundation. The bottles above Joseph shook, and one of them fell. It hit the counter and shattered, spilling a thick red liquid all over his hair and shirt.

A bit dripped into his mouth.

Ugh, grenadine.

Joseph was starting to panic, wondering what he was thinking trying to hold his own with a bunch of gods.

“Enough!” someone roared, the sound echoing throughout the club and rattling the entire bar. The fighting ceased immediately, and a mouse fart could have been heard in the silence that followed.

Cautiously, Joseph poked his head out to see whose booming voice had such power.

It was Zale!

Zale was stalking his way through the club from the front door, looking around with a foul sneer. Everywhere his eyes landed, something happened—a burn mark was fixed, a broken table reassembled, and so on until the club was as flawless as before.

When his eyes found Joseph, there was an odd expression on his face. 

Joseph couldn’t quite discern the emotion behind it, and he gasped as Zale suddenly appeared right beside him behind the bar. He was startled, but he still found himself standing up and trying to lean into Zale’s space.

“Are you all right?” Zale frowned and reached out as if to touch Joseph’s cheek. Apparently remembering that he couldn’t, he curled his fingers into a fist and dropped his hand at his side.

“I’m fine,” Joseph replied hastily. He adjusted his necklace, teasing, “Hell of a party.”

“I did warn you.” Zale snorted and then he smiled. 

“That you did.”

Zale opened his mouth as if to say something, but his smile vanished when he noticed Penelope. He scowled, disappearing and reappearing in front of her.

“Hey, Zale,” she greeted him with a strained smile.

“Seph,” Zale murmured, his expression murky and impossible to read as he looked her over.

“It’s Penelope now,” she reminded him firmly. Her demeanor softened as she looked at him. “You look great,” she added in a more gentle tone.

“As do you.” Zale’s smile tightened. “How is Linda?”

“She’s wonderful. We’re moving to Paris in a few weeks. We’re going to renew our vows on top of the Eiffel Tower next summer.”

“How nice,” Zale said, his upper lip twitching. His expression remained completely calm otherwise. “So, what brings you all the way down here?” he casually asked.

“Personal business. I wanted to meet Joseph.”

“You’ve met him. Now you can leave.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Penelope countered fearlessly. “I wanted to see if this was real and it is. I’m going to make sure you don’t screw this up any more than you already have.”

“Penelope,” Zale began, a faint edge to his voice. “My personal life is none of your concern. It hasn’t been for quite some time—”

“It certainly is my damn concern when it affects the entire world,” Penelope retorted sharply.

The music started playing again, drowning out their argument. Joseph stayed behind the bar, unsure of what to do now. He scooted out of the way as the bartender returned to get back to work, but he didn’t dare advance any closer.

He didn’t see any sign of Jayden, and Penelope and Zale appeared intent on fighting with each other. He was surrounded by dancing dead people, gods, and goddesses, and he had never felt so out of place before.

And sticky. 

Grenadine was dreadfully sticky.

“Awkward, right?” Lance teased, appearing right beside Joseph at the end of the bar and pouring him a drink.

“Understatement of the century,” Joseph mumbled.

Lance offered him what appeared to be a margarita. 

Joseph hesitated, but he took it and then chugged it back.

Definitely a margarita and definitely too much tequila.

Joseph made a face, but he finished it anyway. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure. I’d be more than happy to get you out of here.” Lance grinned. “We could go somewhere nice and quiet, you could take your clothes off, get comfortable…”

“No thanks,” Joseph said hastily, turning his attention back to Penelope and Zale. They were loud enough now that he could hear them over the bass, and he cringed in sympathy.

“Haven’t you done enough already?” Zale roared furiously. “Do you have any idea what an insult this is to me?”

“Zale, I do care about you!” Penelope protested. “I’ve always cared about you—!”

“Ha!” Zale snarled in disgust. “You only cared about what you could get from me. You used me, Seph. Used me up and left me the very second you found another warm bed to your liking.”

“You pushed me away!” Penelope yelled back. “You shut me out! You can’t carry this kingdom by yourself and you wouldn’t let me help you!”

“I didn’t need your damn help! I didn’t need it then and I certainly don’t need it now!”

Cutting through the angry voices and thumping music, Joseph heard the bells again. The trilling was a beacon, urging him out from the bar and toward the dance floor.

“Joseph?” Lance called out. “What are you doing?”

Joseph barely heard him, every other sound vanishing as it did before. Through the crowd he went, and the sound got louder and louder. He reached out, drawn to something warm in the air that he couldn’t see. He could feel it.

There in his hands was a pair of hands. The hands were Zale’s, with his long elegant fingers and so warm to the touch and—Oh God, one of them twitched and Joseph shrieked, hurling them both to the floor.

The music screeched to a halt, and every single person in the club stared at Joseph.

Joseph grinned sheepishly as he kneeled to grab Zale’s hands. He tried to brush them off, stammering, “S-sorry! You know, uh, one of them moved, and it was a little freaky.”

Across the club, Zale hung his head.

Penelope grinned.

Zale sighed loudly, snapping his fingers and whisking Joseph away to the altar cave in a blink. He massaged his temples as he drawled, “Could you please not make a habit of dropping the pieces of my sacred vessel?”

“It’s creepy!” Joseph complained, scrambling to place the hands on the altar. “I’m sorry, it freakin’ moved!”

Zale waved his fingers, and the hands vanished as the heart had before. He looked thoughtful, glancing over at Joseph as he noted, “No one’s ever found a piece so close to the edge of my kingdom.”

“What does that mean?”

“I honestly don’t know.” Zale pressed close, his hand gently touching Joseph’s cheek. 

Joseph’s lashes fluttered as Zale was actually able to make physical contact now, and he leaned into Zale’s warm palm. He hated how much he’d missed this, but he didn’t pull away.

“But maybe it means…” Zale sighed. “That I made a mistake.”

“Gods make mistakes?”


Joseph instinctively reached for Zale’s arm, but the physical form ended just at his wrist despite what his eyes could see. “That’s so weird.”

Zale chuckled. “Motivation for you to find the rest more quickly.”

“Jerk.” Joseph snorted, loving the brush of Zale’s thumb over his ear. He sighed, not wanting to spoil the tender moment, but everything Penelope had said was starting to set in.

“Penelope, Persephone, whatever her name is.” Joseph frowned. “She left you for someone else?”

“Yes,” Zale said, his hand dropping away. “I’m sorry you had to witness all of that. I am not my best self when I’m around her.”

“It’s okay,” Joseph soothed. “You’re not the only one who’s been through a bad break up, you know.”

“I’m aware.”

Silence fell between them, and Joseph swayed from a mix of alcohol and nerves, trying to think of something to say. He thought back to Penelope’s words, and he cleared his throat before he asked, “Did you really mean it? When you said what we had wasn’t real?”

Zale seemed troubled by the question, and he turned away from Joseph. He didn’t answer, only staring blankly at the altar.

Joseph reached out for the one piece of Zale he knew he could touch, his hand, and he squeezed earnestly. “Zale, please.”

Zale finally looked at Joseph, and there were deep lines creasing his face. He was ancient in that moment, all the centuries of pain clear as day when their eyes met. “What do you want from me, Joseph?”

“Another chance,” Joseph said firmly. “A chance to start over without the lies. I know you’re afraid… and I am too.”

“What could you possibly be afraid of?” Zale scoffed.

“You hurting me again,” Joseph replied honestly, his stomach twisting up into knots.

“You’re willing to risk it?” Zale was thoughtful now as he laced their fingers together.

“I have until spring to make up my mind, right?” Joseph tried to warm up his smile, and he reached over to take Zale’s other hand. “All I’m asking for is a chance to start fresh and see what happens. I know it’s crazy, but maybe this is where I’m supposed to be.”

“In the Underworld?” Zale quirked a brow.

“No.” Joseph laughed. “Here with you.”

Zale actually looked surprised, and his expression relaxed once more. He smirked, small and sweet, giving Joseph’s hands a squeeze in return. “Perhaps.”

“Everybody seems to think that me finding your heart was a pretty big deal,” Joseph went on. “And I’m starting to think it is too. Do you have any idea how excited I’d get when I opened up my email and saw I had a new message from you? I was checking it, like, twenty times a day. When we finally met? And what I felt? That was real. I know it was. And I think… I think it was for you too.” 

Zale’s smile grew. “You really are insane.”

“Yeah,” Joseph agreed, grinning proudly. “But maybe you are too.”

“You’re also very beautiful.” Zale’s eyes flicked over Joseph in a hungry way that made him shiver. “My brother outdid himself dressing you. You look exquisite.”

“Thank you,” Joseph said, well aware his cheeks were heating up.

“Shame about the shirt.” Zale tilted his head, eyeing the stain. “Syrup?”

“I think it’s grenadine.” Joseph grimaced. “It’s in my hair too.”

“How about a nice bath to rinse off the filth of the evening?”

“That sounds great.” 

The words had barely left his lips before Joseph found himself instantly transported to a large bathroom that was easily bigger than his entire apartment. The tub was a mammoth tiled pool built into the floor, and the glowing water within was steaming hot.

“May I?” Zale asked, his hands brushing over the front of Joseph’s shirt.

Joseph gulped as the blood in his circulatory system promptly dove south. “Uh, sure.”

Zale unbuttoned each button with the utmost care and then slid the stained garment off and let it hit the floor. He petted Joseph’s arms and chest, slowly moving down to his pants.

“Couldn’t you… uh… use your powers and just blink my clothes off?” Joseph asked, hoping Zale would somehow not notice how hard he was getting.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Zale winked as he dropped Joseph’s pants. He took his time, removing the last of his clothing except the necklace. “You look perfect like this. In nothing but jewels.”

Joseph gazed at Zale, his heart pounding as he whispered, “I wish I could kiss you right now.”

“I know.” 

“Even though you’re still totally a jerk and haven’t actually apologized for any of it.”

“I have a lot to make up for.” Zale ran his fingers through Joseph’s hair, though he stopped when he found the grenadine. “Let’s fix this first, shall we?”

Joseph smiled as Zale took his hand to lead him into the bath. The water was waist high and there was a small bench running along the side where Joseph could sit. Joseph sank down with a happy groan, letting the hot water wash over him. 

“Good?” Zale asked.

“Wonderful.” Joseph closed his eyes. “You never did tell me though.”

“Tell you what?”

Joseph peeked open one eye. “Why you lied to me.”

Zale didn’t respond for a moment. “To protect myself,” he said at last. “You were right. I am afraid… I’m afraid to get hurt again. This is not easy for me. Getting married, getting divorced, year after year.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way,” Joseph said carefully, looking up at him hopefully. “I mean, have you actually tried to date any of your other brides? Or do you just assume they’re going to hate you once they find out you’re a god, so you act like a jerk as soon as you’re married?”

“I think I used to try. To be kind, I mean. To make something of it.” Zale sighed. “But no one ever wanted to stay. Everyone runs screaming when they see the Underworld for the first time, and it’s usually downhill after that.” 

“It’s not exactly Disney World.”

“True.” Zale smirked. “Although no one else ever dropped my pieces before…”

“Ha ha.” Joseph rolled his eyes. “Well, I cannot promise that I am going to stop dropping them, but—” He took a deep breath. “—maybe I could stay.”

“You’d stay,” Zale echoed, though it almost sounded like a question.

“I said ‘maybe.’” Joseph smiled cheekily. “The bath is a nice start, but you have a lot of making up to do. If you’re messing with me, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”

Zale chuckled. “Whatever you say, Captain Tightpants.”

Joseph loved how well Zale could quote their favorite show and he wanted to keep up the playful teasing, but his voice cracked when he said, “You really hurt me, Zale.”

“I know,” Zale said quietly. “And for that I am sorry.” He reached over to touch Joseph’s face, feathery and light. “I am very, very sorry. After being hurt so many times, I simply stopped trying. It was easier that way instead of letting myself be vulnerable only to be rejected. I never thought to give anyone my heart again.”

“And then I found it in a dirty cave, huh?”

“Joseph.” Zale smiled sweetly. “You had my heart long before I brought you here.”


“Our letters,” Zale explained with a twinkle in his eye. “Our electronic mail? I knew from your very first one that I had found someone very special. I suppose that is why I made such an effort to push you away. I was afraid of my feelings for you before we’d even met.”

“Oh, Zale.” Joseph sighed, his eyes hot and his heart aching in the most wonderful way. “That’s very sweet. You’re still an asshole, but okay, I’ll give you that one. Ten points for being smooth.”

“Close your eyes.”

“What for?”

“So I can start making up to you.”

Joseph wasn’t sure what Zale had in mind, but he closed his eyes as asked. He gasped when he suddenly felt Zale’s hands on his body, stroking his sides and hips. It was as if Zale was sitting right behind him, but the only thing Joseph could feel other than his hands was the warm tile against his body.

Zale’s strong hands moved over his thighs, dipping in toward his groin and stroking lightly over his cock. Joseph instinctively reached down to touch his arm but found nothing. All he could feel were those hands all over his dick and it was feeling good.

Really good.

Zale kept stroking Joseph’s cock, his long fingers twisting around him in the most delightful way. His other hand was caressing Joseph’s balls, dipping below to teasingly pet his hole.

Joseph couldn’t help but gasp, bracing himself at the side of the pool. He’d never had a handjob this intense, scrambling to keep himself from coming too soon. “Zale…. I…. fuck…”

“Come on,” Zale urged.

Intense heat was building up inside Joseph’s body, from his balls to deep inside his loins. The pressure was amazing and impossible to resist. He had no idea how Zale’s mere hands could bring him such intense bliss and his skin was soon buzzing all over. His mortal brain couldn’t take so much pleasure, groaning as he suddenly came.

It was intense enough to leave him breathless with stars dancing in front of his eyes. “Zale!” he groaned “Fuck! Yes!”

Zale kept his fingers moving, driving Joseph to the point of near agony from so much stimulation. He finally released him with a soft whisper, “Open your eyes.”

Joseph found Zale in the bath next to him, naked as he was, and how he longed to hold him. He wanted to kiss him so terribly, but he settled for bringing Zale’s hand up to his lips instead. “Wow.”

Zale hummed in agreement, sliding his thumb over Joseph’s lower lip. “Very wow.”

Joseph grinned. “So, dinner?”

“Right now?” Zale laughed.

“If the offer is still standing,” Joseph said, playfully splashing at Zale. “Because now I’m starving.” 

Even though the water went right through him, Zale acted offended and splashed back. “And what is it that my groom desires?”

“Pretty sure a god can handle some Chinese takeout, right?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

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