“Why?” I said. “Why am I here? I’m not your princess, and I didn’t sign up for any of this, so why is it happening?”
Henry offered me his hand, and I hesitated, but finally took it. His skin felt surprisingly warm against mine. I don’t know what I’d been expecting—ice, maybe. Not heat. Not any evidence of life.
“Close your eyes,” he murmured, and I did. A moment later, I felt a cool breeze against my cheek, and my eyes flew open. We were outside, in the middle of an elaborate and well-tended garden, with quiet fountains scattered throughout the flowers and hedges. A stone path led up from where we stood to the back of the manor, which loomed in the distance, an easy half a mile away. Cerberus, the large dog from the forest, trotted up to greet Henry, and he gave him a good scratch behind the ears.
My stomach dropped to my knees, and any color that was left drained from my cheeks. “How did you—”
“In time,” he said. Numbly I sat down on the edge of the fountain. “You said yesterday that you did not want to do this, and I do not blame you. Now that the deal has been made, however, it cannot be undone. You showed courage the night you saved your friend’s life, and I ask that you find it within yourself once more.”
I took a deep breath, trying to find an ounce of that so-called courage he was convinced I had. All I could find was fear. “Back in Eden, you said—you said if I read the myth of Persephone, I’d understand what you wanted,” I said in a shaking voice. “My friend James told me she was the Queen of the Underworld, and I read it in a book when I was—” I shook my head. It wasn’t important. “Is that true?”
He nodded. “She was my wife.”
“Was? She existed?”
“Yes,” he said, his voice softer. “She died many years ago.”
Henry’s expression was blank. “She fell in love with a mortal, and after he died, she chose to join him. I did not stop her.”
There were so many parts of that statement that I didn’t understand that I wasn’t sure where to begin. “But she’s a myth. It isn’t possible she really existed.”
“Maybe,” he said, his gaze distant. “But if it is happening, who’s to say what’s possible and what isn’t?”
“Logic,” I said. “The laws of nature. Rationality. Some things just aren’t possible.”
“Then tell me, Kate—how did we get outside?”
I looked around again, half expecting it to fade away like some elaborate illusion. “You knocked me out and brought me out here?” I offered weakly.
“Or perhaps there was a trap door that you did not see.” He reached out to take my hand, and I stiffened. Sighing, he brushed his fingers against mine and then pulled away. “There is always a rational explanation, but sometimes things may seem irrational or impossible if you don’t know all the rules.”
“So what?” I said. “You’re telling me that a Greek god just happened to build a manor in the middle of the woods in a country halfway across the world?”
“When you have eons to live, the world becomes a much smaller place,” he said. “I have homes in many countries, including Greece, but I favor the solitude here. It is peaceful, and I enjoy the seasons and the long winter.”
I sat very still, not knowing what to say to that.
“Could you try to believe me?” said Henry. “Just for now. Even if it means pushing aside everything you’ve learned, would you please do me the favor of trying to accept what I am telling you, no matter how improbable it might seem?”
Pressing my lips together, I looked down at my hands. “Is that what you do? Play make-believe?”
“No.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “But you may, if you’d like. If it will make it easier on you.”
This wasn’t going to go away. Even if it was all one big trick, if everything was planned out from the beginning to make me look like a fool or whatever his endgame was, then all I could do was wait for the punch line.
But the image of Ava lying in a pool of her own blood with her skull bashed in floated into my mind, as did the feeling of the cool breeze across my cheek when only moments before, we’d been in the heart of the manor. And my mother, alive and well in Central Park—whatever was going on, sooner or later I’d have to face the fact that it wasn’t anything I’d ever experienced before.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s pretend this is really Paradise and everyone’s dead, and Ella and Calliope are a million years old, and you’re really who you say you are—”
“I do not claim to be anyone except for me,” he said, the corner of his mouth twitching upward.
I made a face. “Fine, then let’s pretend this is all real, that magic is possible and the tooth fairy exists. And somewhere down the line I didn’t hit my head and you aren’t certifiably insane. What does your wife dying have to do with me?”
Henry was silent for a long moment. “As I said, she chose to die rather than to stay with me. I was her husband, but she simply loved him more.”
Judging by his pained expression, there was nothing simple about it, but I didn’t press him. “You know you look way too young to have been married, right?” I said in a sorry attempt to lighten the mood. “How old are you anyway?”
The corners of his lips twitched again. “Older than I look.” After a moment he added, “She may have loved me, but it was never her choice. It was my last gift to her, letting her go.”