For hours Geryon worked at repairing the wall, pleading with Kadence all the while to remain behind. Demons were dangerous, he said. Demons liked their prey alive and fresh, he said. What he did not say was that she was fragile, breakable. No, he did not need to say it; she read the thoughts in the ever-growing warmth of his eyes.

Through it all, she refused to allow him to go alone. She had not bartered something that would surely earn her the wrath of the gods, only to send him on a mission he could not hope to win without her.

While the demons were not hers to command, she could force them to bow to her. She hoped. Besides, she might appear fragile and breakable, but she possessed a core of iron.

Something she'd finally proven to Lucifer earlier.

As a child, she had been an indomitable force. A whirlwind that trampled anything and everything in her path. It had not been intentional. She'd simply followed the quiet urgings inside her head. Dominate. Master. When she'd realized she had chipped away at her own mother's strength of mind, turning the once vibrant goddess into a lifeless shell, she had retreated inside herself, afraid of who and what she was. Afraid of what she could do, unintentional though it was.

Sadly, with those fears came others, as if she'd opened a doorway in her mind and placed a welcome mat out front. Fear of people, places, emotions. For centuries she had acted like the mouse Lucifer had called her.

Underneath the fears, however, she was still the goddess she'd been born to be: Oppression. She conquered. She did not cower. Please, do not let me cower. Not any longer.

Only a few moments ago, Geryon had reluctantly pried apart the boulders blocking the cavern from a yawning pit - only a small slit - flames and scaled arms instantly reaching out. He had entered first, commanding both to recede. To her surprise, they had obeyed the instant she came through. Part of her wanted to believe they had done so because they'd been afraid of her. The other part of her knew they'd feared Geryon.

"Ready, goddess?" he anchored himself on a ledge of the wall. He was to the left of the gate, she on the right. "Ready?" he insisted, reaching toward her. To protect her? Aid her? They were hanging onto a massive rock, after all, a fiery pit waiting to catch them should they fall.

"Yes." Finally, I will know his touch. Surely it will not be as divine as my body expects. Nothing could be. But just before contact, he lowered his arm and inched further away from her. She sighed in disappointment and tightened her grip on the wall, balancing her feet on the thin ledge as best she could.

"This way." He motioned toward the crack with a tilt of his chin.

"All right. And Geryon? Thank you. For everything." Usually she whisked herself to Lucifer's palace without ever opening the gate, too afraid to fall into this smoldering pit and explore the wasteland waiting below. Not today. She couldn't.

"You are welcome." He pushed the stones back together.

She waved her hand over them, leaving traces of her power there. Because there was no longer a guardian stationed out front, the extra fortification was needed - despite the fact that providing it weakened her.

As fragments of her power adhered to the stones, she was careful to maintain distance from them. Supposedly Geryon was the only one who could touch the gate without consequence. Well, besides Hades and Lucifer. Anyone else, the stones heaped untold pain and horror upon.

She had never dared test the supposition.

A thought occurred to her, and she tilted her head, studying her companion. Without Geryon at the gate, who would open the stones to allow damned souls inside? Perhaps Lucifer had already appointed another guardian. Perhaps? She chuckled without humor. He had. He couldn't leave the gates unguarded. The knowledge that Geryon would not be the man she saw every day...saddened her. For when the wall was safe, Geryon could leave but she would be stuck here.

Do not think about that now. She glanced around. The air was smokier here, she noticed, hotter. So hot, in fact, sweat instantly beaded on her skin, trickling down her temples, between her breasts. And as Geryon climbed over her to position himself in front of her, widening the distance between them, no longer did she smell the decadent scent of powerful male; she smelled only the pungent odor of decay. Screams and curses assaulted her ears.

Something fiery brushed the back of her neck, and she yelped.

Geryon jumped into immediate action, growling and swiping out his claw. But the flame receded, and she would swear she heard it laugh.

No, they were not intimidated by her.

"Are you all right?" Geryon asked her.

"Yes," she said, but gods, what had she gotten herself into?