Book ‘Neon Gods’ by Katee Robert

PDF Excerpt 'Neon Gods' by Katee Robert
A Scorchingly Hot Modern Retelling of Hades and Persephone
He was supposed to be a myth. But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell... he was, quite simply, mine. *A scorchingly hot modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that's as sinful as it is sweet.* Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that's ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city's dark facade. With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil's bargain with a man she once believed a myth... a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed...
Publisher: ‎Sourcebooks Casablanca (June 1, 2021)  Paperback: ‎384 pages  ISBN-10: ‎1728231736  ISBN-13: ‎978-1728231730  ASIN: B08GC6FXVZ

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Katee Robert is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Entertainment Weekly calls her writing “unspeakably hot” and her books have sold over a million copies. She currently resides with her husband, children, a cat who thinks he’s a dog, and two Great Danes who think they’re lap dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Zara Hampton-Brown is an experienced audiobook narrator. Originally trained as an actress, she enjoys bringing characters to life…

Book excerpt

To Erin and Melody — your podcast has brought me so much joy over the last few years, and I hope Hades’s boastful floors give you a little joy in return.

Chapter 1

Persephone

“I really hate these parties.”

“Don’t let Mother hear you say that.”

I glance over my shoulder at Psyche. “You hate them, too.” I’ve lost count of the number of events our mother has dragged us to over the years. She’s always got her eye on the next prize, on the newest piece to move in this chess game only she knows the rules to. It might be easier to stomach if most days I didn’t feel like one of her pawns.

Psyche comes to stand next to me and bumps me with her shoulder. “I knew I’d find you here.”

“It’s the only room in this place I can stand.” Even though the statue room is the very essence of hubris. It’s a relatively plain space—if shining marble floors and tasteful gray walls can be called plain—filled with thirteen full-body statues arranged in a loose circle around the room. One for each member of the Thirteen, the group that rules Olympus. I name them off silently as my gaze skips over each one—Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Athena, Ares, Dionysus, Hermes, Artemis, Apollo, Hephaestus, Aphrodite—before turning back to face the final statue. This one is covered in a black cloth that pours over it, spilling down to pool on the floor at its feet. Even still, it’s impossible to miss the wide-set shoulders,

the spiky crown that adorns his head. My fingers itch to grab the fabric and rip it away so I can finally see his features once and for all.

Hades.

In a few short months, I’ll have won my freedom from this city, will have escaped, never to return. I won’t have another chance to look on the face of Olympus’s boogeyman. “Isn’t it weird that they never replaced him?”

Psyche snorts. “How many times have we had this conversation?”

“Come on. You know it’s weird. They’re the Thirteen, but really they’re only twelve. There’s no Hades. There hasn’t been for a very long time.” Hades, the ruler of the lower city. Or at least he used to be. It’s a legacy title, and the entire family has long since died out. Now, the lower city is technically under Zeus’s reign like the rest of us, but from what I hear, he doesn’t ever set foot on that side of the river. Crossing the River Styx is difficult for the same reason leaving Olympus is difficult; from what I hear, each step through the barrier creates a sensation like your head will explode. No one voluntarily experiences something like that. Not even Zeus.

Especially when I doubt the people in the lower city will kiss his ass the same way everyone in the upper city does. All that discomfort and no payoff? It’s no surprise Zeus avoids the crossing just like the rest of us. “Hades is the only one who never spent time in the upper city. It makes me think he was different from the rest of them.”

“He wasn’t,” Psyche says flatly. “It’s easy to pretend when he’s dead and the title no longer exists. But every one of the Thirteen is the same, even our mother.”

She’s right—I know she’s right—but I can’t help the fantasy. I reach up but stop before my fingers make contact with the statue’s face. It’s just morbid curiosity that draws me to this dead legacy, and that’s not worth the trouble I’d be in if I gave in to the temptation to snatch the dark veil away. I let my hand drop. “What’s Mother up to tonight?”

“I don’t know.” She sighs. “I wish Callisto were here. She, at least, gives Mother pause.”

My three sisters and I all found different ways to adapt when our mother became Demeter and we were thrust into the shining world that exists only for the Thirteen. It’s so sparkling and extravagant that it’s almost enough to distract from the poison at its core. It was adapt or drown.

I force myself to act the part of the bright and sparkly daughter who is always obedient, which allows Psyche to play it cool and quiet as she flies under the radar. Eurydice clings to every bit of life and excitement she can find with a borderline desperation. Callisto? Callisto fights Mother with a ferocity that belongs in the arena. She will break before she bends, and as a result, Mother exempts her from these mandatory events. “It’s better that she’s not. If Zeus makes a pass at Callisto, she might try to gut him. Then we’d truly have an incident on our hands.”

The only person in Olympus who murders without consequence—allegedly—is Zeus himself. The rest of us are expected to uphold the laws.

Psyche shudders. “Has he tried anything with you?”

“No.” I shake my head, still looking at Hades’s statue. No, Zeus hasn’t touched me, but at the last couple of events we’ve attended, I could feel his gaze following me around the room. It’s the reason I attempted to beg off tonight, though my mother all but dragged me out the door behind her. Nothing good comes from gaining Zeus’s attention. It always ends the same—the women broken and Zeus walking away without so much as a bad headline to tarnish his reputation. There was exactly one set of charges officially leveled against him a few years ago, and it was such a circus that the woman disappeared before the case ever went to trial. The most optimistic outcome is that she somehow found a way out of Olympus; the more realistic is that Zeus added her to his alleged body count.

No, better to avoid him at every turn.

Something that would be significantly easier to do if my mother weren’t one of the Thirteen.

The sound of heels clicking smartly against the marble floors has my heartbeat picking up in recognition. Mother always strides like she’s marching into battle. For a moment, I honestly consider hiding behind the covered statue of Hades, but I discard the idea before Mother appears in the doorway to the statue gallery. Hiding would only delay the inevitable.

“There you are.” Tonight she’s wearing a deep-green gown that skims her body and feeds into the whole earth-mother role she’s decided best fits her branding as the woman who ensures the city doesn’t go hungry. She likes the people to see the kind smile and helping hand and ignore the way she will happily mow down anyone who tries to stand in the way of her ambition.

She pauses in front of the statue of her namesake, Demeter. The statue is generously curved and wearing a flowing dress that melds with the flowers springing up at her feet. They match the floral wreath circling her head, and she smiles serenely as if she knows all the secrets of the universe. I’ve caught my mother practicing that exact expression.

Mother’s lips curve, but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes as she turns to us. “You’re supposed to be mingling.”

“I have a headache.” The same excuse I used to try to get out of attending tonight. “Psyche was just checking on me.”

“Mm-hmm.” Mother shakes her head. “You two are becoming as hopeless as your sisters.”

If I realized that being hopeless was the surest way to avoid Mother’s meddling, I would have gone with that role instead of the one I chose. It’s too late to change my path now, but the headache I faked is becoming a real possibility at the thought of going back to the party. “I’m going to cut out early. I think this might evolve into a migraine.”

“You most definitely are not.” She says it pleasantly enough, but there is steel in her tone. “Zeus wants to speak to you. There’s absolutely no reason to make him wait.”

I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head, but I know Mother won’t listen to a single one. Still, I can’t help but try. “You know, he’s rumored to have killed all three of his wives.”

“It’s certainly less messy than a divorce.”

I blink. I honestly can’t tell if she’s joking or not. “Mother…”

“Oh, relax. You’re so tense. Trust me, girls. I know best.” My mother is likely the smartest person I know, but her goals are not my goals. There’s no easy way out of this, though, so I obediently fall into step next to Psyche and follow her out of the room. For a moment, I imagine I can feel the intensity of Hades’s statue staring at my back, but it’s pure fantasy. Hades is a dead title. Even if he wasn’t, my sister is probably right; he’d be just as bad as the rest of them.

We leave the statue room and walk down the long hallway leading back to the party. It’s like everything else in Dodona Tower—large and excessive and expensive. The hallway is easily twice as wide as it needs to be, and each door we pass is at least a foot taller than normal. Deep-red curtains hang from the ceiling to the floor and are pulled back on either side of the doors—an extra touch of extravagance that the space most certainly didn’t need. It gives the impression of walking through a palace rather than the skyscraper that towers over the upper city. As if anyone is in danger of forgetting that Zeus has styled himself as a modern-day king. I’m honestly surprised he doesn’t walk around with a crown that matches his statue’s.

The banquet room is more of the same. It’s a massive, sprawling space with one wall completely taken up with windows and a few glass doors leading out to the balcony that overlooks the city. We’re on the top floor of the tower, and the view is truly outstanding. From this point, a person can see a good portion of the upper city and the winding swath of blackness that is the River Styx. And on the other side? The lower city. It doesn’t look all that different from the upper city up here, but it might as well be on the moon for all that most of us can reach it.

Tonight, the balcony doors are closed tight to avoid anyone being inconvenienced by the icy winter wind. Instead of the view of the city, the darkness behind the glass has become a distorted mirror of the room. Everyone is dressed to the nines, a rainbow of designer gowns and tuxes, flashes of horribly expensive jewels and finery. They create a sickening kaleidoscope as people move through the crowd, mingling and networking and dripping beautiful poison from painted-red lips. It reminds me of a fun-house mirror. Nothing in the reflection is quite what it seems, for all its supposed beauty.

Around the remaining three walls are giant portraits of the twelve active members of the Thirteen. They’re oil paintings, a tradition that goes back to the beginning of Olympus. As if the Thirteen really do think they’re like the monarchs of old. The artist certainly took some liberties with a few of them. The younger version of Ares, in particular, looks side of the doors—an extra touch of extravagance that the space most certainly didn’t need. It gives the impression of walking through a palace rather than the skyscraper that towers over the upper city. As if anyone is in danger of forgetting that Zeus has styled himself as a modern-day king. I’m honestly surprised he doesn’t walk around with a crown that matches his statue’s.

The banquet room is more of the same. It’s a massive, sprawling space with one wall completely taken up with windows and a few glass doors leading out to the balcony that overlooks the city. We’re on the top floor of the tower, and the view is truly outstanding. From this point, a person can see a good portion of the upper city and the winding swath of blackness that is the River Styx. And on the other side? The lower city. It doesn’t look all that different from the upper city up here, but it might as well be on the moon for all that most of us can reach it.

Tonight, the balcony doors are closed tight to avoid anyone being inconvenienced by the icy winter wind. Instead of the view of the city, the darkness behind the glass has become a distorted mirror of the room. Everyone is dressed to the nines, a rainbow of designer gowns and tuxes, flashes of horribly expensive jewels and finery. They create a sickening kaleidoscope as people move through the crowd, mingling and networking and dripping beautiful poison from painted-red lips. It reminds me of a fun-house mirror. Nothing in the reflection is quite what it seems, for all its supposed beauty.

Around the remaining three walls are giant portraits of the twelve active members of the Thirteen. They’re oil paintings, a tradition that goes back to the beginning of Olympus. As if the Thirteen really do think they’re like the monarchs of old. The artist certainly took some liberties with a few of them. The younger version of Ares, in particular, looks nothing like the man himself. Age changes a person, but his jaw was never that square, nor his shoulders that broad. That artist also depicted him with a giant broadsword in his hand, when I know for a fact this Ares won his position by submission in the arena—not in war. But then, I suppose that doesn’t make for as majestic an image.

It takes a certain kind of person to gossip and mingle and backstab while their likeness stares down at them, but the Thirteen is filled with monsters like that.

Mother cuts through the crowd, perfectly at ease with all the other sharks. With nearly ten years serving as Demeter, she’s one of the newest members of the Thirteen, but she’s taken to moving in these circles like she was born to it instead of elected by the people the same way Demeters always are.

The crowd parts for her, and I can feel eyes on us as we follow her into the brightly colored mix. These people might resemble peacocks with the way they go the extra mile for these events, but to a person, their eyes are cold and merciless. I have no friends in this room—only people who seek to use me as a stepping stool to claw their way to more power. A lesson I learned early and harshly.

Two people move out of my mother’s way, and I catch a glimpse of the corner of the room I do my best to avoid when I’m here. It houses an honest-to-gods throne, a gaudy thing made of gold and silver and copper. The sturdy legs curve up to armrests and the back of the throne flares out to give the impression of a thundercloud. As dangerous and electric as its owner, and he wants to be sure no one ever forgets it.

Zeus.

If Olympus is ruled by the Thirteen, the Thirteen are ruled by Zeus. It’s a legacy role, one passed from parent to child, the bloodline stretching back to the first founding of the city. Our current Zeus has held his position for decades, ever since he took over at thirty.

He’s somewhere north of sixty now. I suppose he’s attractive enough if one likes big barrel-chested white men with great boisterous laughs and beards gone winter gray. He makes my skin crawl. Every time he looks at me with those faded blue eyes, I feel like I’m an animal at auction. Less than an animal, really. A pretty vase, or perhaps a statue. Something to be owned.