Hades barely felt the pool stick when it connected with the back of his head. It didn’t hurt, but it was definitely going to leave a mark. He got up from his barstool, growling almost as loudly as Cerberus, who was wiggling up a storm in his arms, barking like a hell hound to be let down.
True, Hades had called the guy a pussy, but the douche bag had referred to Cerberus as a gimpy little turd.
Little? Yeah, about that. Hades should have known he’d get a six-pack and Cerberus would get stuck being a three-legged Chihuahua when he’d agreed to join Z’s motorcycle club here on Earth. He’d asked if his best boy could come with, and the Fates had agreed, but they’d said some “adjustments” would need to be made.
It was no secret the sisters had a mean streak, but damn, he hadn’t realized they also had such a sick sense of humor.
The moment Hades set Cerberus down, all four pounds of bristled black fur took off after the guy faster than a harpy tearing out an eyeball. Thing was, whether they were on Earth or in Hell, if someone made fun of the tiny terror, they were going to suffer the consequences.
There was a strong possibility there was also going to be fisticuffs because that was just the way things worked. Oh, Hades would give them the chance to apologize before walking away quietly, because he was generous like that, but if they decided they wanted to stick around and run their mouth? Well, then they were just playing with fire.
The mortal asshat who’d hit him was sure going to regret waking up that morning.
Yet, for as pissed as Hades was, guilt still managed to stab at his chest when he glanced down at his dog going nuts on the guy’s ankle. With his teeth clamped onto the pant leg of the man’s jeans like a vice grip and tugging like there was no tomorrow, the once powerful three-headed canine was no more than a speck compared to his former incarnation.
On the bright side, even though his faithful companion may have lost two of his heads when they’d left the Underworld, at least Cerbie still had a huge set of cajones.
Hades stifled a laugh as Cerbie wrenched the fraying denim back and forth, using his tiny hind legs for leverage to shred it even more, but winced when the guy kicked his foot out with enough force to fling him across the bar. Another twinge of guilt pierced through Hades. It wasn’t the dog’s fault he wasn’t big enough to fight his own battles anymore.
Yeah, that would be all on Hades. He was the master when it came to not thinking things through. He wouldn’t have asked if Cerbie could come along for the ride if he’d have known the sisters were going to do him like that. They’d said it was so no one would get hurt, but Hades suspected they'd just been having a bad day when the request came through.
In other words, they were cat people.
What was he even doing out of the Underworld in the first place? One word.
He’d made one helluva batch of wine, one of the best he’d ever made. Zeus and the gang went through seventy cases one night, and after centuries of the Olympians being tossed aside for angels and exorcisms, Zeus, drunker than a muse after half a wine spritzer, declared he was done.
“Fuck it,” he’d slurred. “We’re all retiring.”
Zeus had always wanted to start a motorcycle club, anyway, so that’s what he did. When he’d asked if Hades wanted to ride across God’s green acre without a care in the world, he’d said yes. It was kind of a no-brainer. The Underworld had nine circles, eleven counting Elysium and Tartarus, and he was tired of juggling those sweaty balls.
He also hadn’t really had much choice in the matter. Just like everything else—like being handed the keys to the Underworld, even though he hadn’t wanted them, and, oh, acquiring a bad rep for being an evil and malicious bastard to go along with them—joining the club had kind of been mandatory. If Zeus was going to retire, they were all going to retire.
“Get him, Hades,” whispered Poseidon.
The ever-present goading synonymous with Poseidon flipped Hades’ switch, and he balled his hands into fists as he stared down the idiot who had just found himself in a whole lot of hot water. Boiling, since Hades’ mortal shell was a six-foot-four wall of solid inked muscle. The black hair, dark eyes, and eternal bad attitude didn’t hurt either.
He didn’t go by the name Cole Black for nothing.
Hades caught a glimpse of Zeus sitting a few stools down, completely oblivious to what was about to go down as he chatted up the bartender. It was so typical Hades nearly laughed out loud.
Humans didn’t know the gods existed, and per Z’s agreement with The Man Upstairs, it was to stay that way. Small-time supernatural beings like vampires, werewolves, witches, and satyrs were okay, but the big guns like gods and aliens were not. They were to be kept secret until the human race had matured a bit more.
Thanks to the asshole who’d woken up and chosen violence, it looked like that was about to change.
Hades grinned, then turned his full attention toward the meat bag he was about to enjoy clocking. He might be retired from ruling over souls, but he could still ring a mother fucker’s bell pretty hard.
“First of all,” Hades ground out as he cracked his knuckles, “His name is Cerberus. Second, the only thing gimpy around here is going to be you.” He crooked his finger at the man, beckoning him to step forward and accept his punishment.
Old habits die hard.
The guy swallowed, his eyes going as big as dinner plates. “What are you?” He disobeyed Hades’ command and took a step backward. “A demon?”
Hades was pretty sure that was right about the time the man realized something was very, very wrong.
“I may have been called that once or twice,” answered Hades. He arched a brow as he said it, causing the man to take another step backward.
It could have been how dark Hades’ expression had gone, but it was more likely how tar-pit black his eyes had turned. Hades had to give the guy credit. He would have thought Tough Guy would have already pissed himself by now, to be honest. It wasn’t every day a man picked a fight with the former King of Hell.
“First vamps, then werewolves...” The man took another step backward. “And now demons? Jesus Christ, what’s next?”
“You forgot witches,” said Hades, taking a step forward and cocking his fist back. He’d wound up to deliver one hell of a blow, but the man snatched an empty beer bottle off a nearby table quicker than he thought possible for a fat fuck mortal. The man launched it at Hades, but he didn’t duck. He let it shatter against his forehead.
Turned out it wasn’t empty, which pissed him off even more than the bastard thinking gods and goddesses weren’t a possibility during his little run-down of supernatural beings.
Hades wasn’t sure why it bothered him. Having to pretend he didn’t exist probably had something to do with it, but it was most likely the fact that, although they’d all maintained their godly physiques, Ichor still ran through their veins. If any of them got injured, they had to remember to disguise it as human blood, which was something Hades wasn’t used to doing yet. If he forgot, or wasn’t quick enough, it would definitely let the cat out of the bag gods did indeed exist.
Hades touched his freshly cut skin, pulling his fingers away to make sure they were covered in red and not shiny metallic gold. To his relief, the substance was a deep crimson.
“Wrong move, man,” snarled Hades, feeling his temperature rise as his magic ramped up.
It might not matter whether the guy saw red or gold. He wasn’t going to live to tell.
Tough Guy’s mouth dropped open, an astonished gasp escaping, and Hades knew the man’s life was flashing before his eyes at the exact moment Hades’ eyes lit up an I’m-done-fucking-around red.
A dark spot trailed down the man’s pant leg and Hades chuckled. There it was, confirmation Tough Guy knew he’d be toast in about five seconds if his man Almighty Christ didn’t step in with a miracle to save his ass.
The oxygen inside the bar heated, pressing in on all sides and feeling like home as Hades prepared to incinerate the human bag of shit. He was only faintly aware of Poseidon cackling with delight in the background—his brother loved a good fight.
The problem was, Hades was all too happy to oblige.
Hades sucked in a lungful of super-heated air before growling, thoroughly in the zone and ready to send Tough Guy’s soul packing. “I’m not a demon, by the way, I’m a fucking g—”
An enormous hand grabbed the back of Hades’ neck and squeezed. Hard. He let out a frustrated sigh. He’d know that controlling grip anywhere.
“Chill the fuck out,” barked Z.
That’s what Zeus went by up here—down for him and his Olympians. A bit expected, but Hades wasn’t going to point that out, not to a notoriously hot-tempered egomaniac like Z.
Z was their fearless leader for a reason. He’d gotten the brains and the brawn. Or should Hades say broads? Seeing as Z never had a problem closing any deals with the ladies, on Earth or Olympus.
“Yeah, Cole. Chill the fuck out,” laughed Poseidon, smug as hell and totally proud of himself.
“Sure thing, Don,” replied Hades, smiling when his brother’s shit-eating grin turned into a scowl.
Poseidon went by Poison down here, but whenever Hades wanted to get under his skin, he called him Don. Hades did it partly because it irritated his brother to no end, but mostly because he found the name Don to be hilarious. It was so run-of-the-mill-mortal, so eighty-year-old grandpa... which was the exact opposite of Poseidon, and what made it so damn funny.
Poseidon was extra, no matter where he was, but calling him Don really gave the whole name situation that jen ne sais quoi Hades lived for.
Speaking of bastards, seriously, how did he fall for Poseidon’s shit every time?
Hades almost howled in frustration as he watched the man make a break for it up the stairs.
Z gave him a violent shake before releasing him. “Go get stitched up. Then get your ass back to the club for the meeting.” He pointed a finger at Poseidon. “And you stop egging him on. You know his good decision-making skills are lacking.”
“You’re the one who agreed we don’t exist, not us,” replied Poseidon, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe you should have run it by the group first.”
“We've never existed as far as humans are concerned. But it actually works to our advantage now, and a torrent of hellfire from this knucklehead isn’t exactly going to keep us flying under the radar, now is it?”
Z waved a hand in Hades’ direction, causing him to promptly roll his eyes while rubbing out the kink Z had left in the back of his neck.
“You guys know the deal,” continued Z. “As long as we don’t blow our cover, we’re good. If either one of you two dickwads mess it up, your ass is mine.” He jabbed a finger at Poseidon. “As in back to the bottom of the sea for you, Don.”
Hades tried not to laugh, but he failed, causing one of Zeus’s eyebrows to slide up.
Z swung his finger toward Hades. “And straight back to Hell for you, Cole. So, chill out, enjoy the ride, and we won’t have a problem, all right?”
“Fine,” said Poseidon, swiping his beer off the bar top. They were at their favorite dive bar in Seattle, Vega’s Underground. They frequented it mostly because Z like flirting with the bartender. Hades only went there for the Kraken Black spiced rum.
A bitter divorce did that to a man.
“Have it your way, bro, but I do believe you won’t be able to enjoy much with that stick up your ass.” Poseidon tipped the bottle toward Z for a Cheers, up yours before taking a swig.
The guy Hades had almost burnt to a crisp was long gone, but Willow, the bartender, was still there, shaking her head at the trio with a grin. This wasn’t the first bar fight Poseidon had caused.
To the rest of the people on the planet, they were members of the Seattle-based Gods of Thunder Motorcycle Club, a badass band of bikers you didn’t want to mess with. But, on account of her being a witch and devotee of Hecate, Willow knew exactly who Z, Poison, and Cole really were, and what they were capable of.
After thousands of years of trying, the gods hadn’t been able to strong-arm Earth’s inhabitants back into believing they were real, and although they were still able to wield power, it made little difference in the worship department. They were no longer as relevant as they’d once been, and, on account of the Z’s drunken declaration they were done caring.
Almighty Christ had pulled ahead in that regard a couple thousand years ago, anyway.
Needless to say, that had been the last straw. Putting in all that effort and getting very little in the way of return on investment frustrated Z to no end. So, he stopped trying, and since he was the boss, when he was over something, he expected everyone else to be, on principle.
Hades was conflicted about the whole retirement thing. Sure, Z was a real self-righteous son-of-a-Titan sometimes, but he’d been the one who had saved all their asses from being trapped in the hellhole that was their father’s stomach, so he was the one who called the shots.
Yep. Torn. Z deserved his reputation as the hero, but sometimes he really held that over their heads. And there wasn’t a damn thing any of them could do about it.
Despite trying to keep his frustration in check, a sigh escaped before Hades whistled for Cerberus to follow him out of Vega’s.