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ARIK CRINGED AT THE HARSH SENSATION OF DENIM SLIDING against his bare legs. The roughness of it was hard to take. How did humans stand it?
The man, Teddy, had loaned him a white shirt and jeans. But the texture of each was itchy and heavy. The clothing Arik was used to had no weight or texture. At least none that he could feel, and in dreams… well, since he was considered an Erotikos Skotos, clothing was seldom ever worn since all it did was get in the way of other, more pleasurable sensations.
After fastening the jeans, he reached for the stiff white shirt at the same time the door burst open. He paused at the sight of Megeara standing in the low, narrow entrance-way, looking much like a puppy caught in a deluge. Her damp khaki shorts fell to her knees. She wore a baggy white shirt untucked that made her appear to be a blob of material. Or at least it would if it weren't wet. As it was, it left very little of her lush body to his imagination.
In this realm, she hid every indication of the full curves he knew she possessed. Even her thick, blond hair was pulled back severely from her face into a tight bun.
But her face was the same. Those intelligent, sharp and clear, almond-shaped eyes that took in the world around her. The light smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. And her lips…
He had spent entire nights kissing those luscious lips. Watching them dance over his skin as she nibbled and teased him until they were both blind with ecstasy.
The memory of it, along with the sight of her tight, puckered nipples straining against her shirt, made his entire body burn with hunger.
"How do you know my name?" she demanded in an angry tone that was undercut by a note of apprehension.
He hesitated as he sensed her fear. He would have to play this carefully if he were to get what he wanted from her. He didn't know much about the human world, but he knew from dreams that scared hosts wouldn't let him touch them. So it only stood to reason that they'd be skittish in this realm, too. If he wanted her in his bed, he'd have to gain her trust.
"You told me." It wasn't a lie. On the night they'd met while they bathed in chocolate, she'd given it to him.
"No. I didn't. No one calls me Megeara. No one."
"What do they call you then?"
"Then Geary you are."
"Yes, but that doesn't explain how you knew my name when I hadn't said it."
"Maybe I'm psychic." He'd meant that as a joke, but by the look on her face, he could tell she didn't find it amusing.
"I don't believe in psychics."
"Then how do you explain it?"
Geary narrowed her eyes at him. He was playing with her, and she didn't appreciate it in the least. "Do I know you? Have we met?"
He hesitated before he answered. "There's no need to be afraid of me, Megeara. We did meet before. Years ago when you were giving a paper at Vanderbilt."
Geary frowned as she remembered the event clearly. That had been her first paper in public… ever. She'd been incredibly nervous. So much so that she'd stumbled on her way to the podium, dropped her pages and notes in front of everyone, and then spent ten minutes, red-faced, as she struggled to put them together again. She'd been halfway through the paper before she realized that one page had fallen underneath the heavy wooden stand and they had to stop everything again to retrieve it.
The event had left her humiliated as people laughed at her. After that fiasco, she'd been lucky anyone had ever invited her to speak on anything.
"I don't remember you."
"I was in the audience at the time. Dr. Chandler introduced us afterward, but we didn't really converse. You seemed a bit harried before you were pulled away by Dr. Chandler to meet her old college professor."
She vaguely remembered that part. The fact that he did lent credibility to his claim. It was true that she'd been preoccupied with saving some dignity at the mixer… still, a man this hot should have been branded in her memory.
A teasing smile quirked one corner of his mouth up. "You left quite an impression on me."
She had to bite back a laugh. Yeah, right. A guy like this would actually remember an overweight frump who'd embarrassed herself? "I find that hard to believe."
But there was no laughter in his intense gaze. Only sincerity. "You shouldn't. It's true."
Geary frowned as she struggled to recall him from her past, but honestly, she'd been in such a fog that day that it was entirely possible they had met and she'd forgotten it. "Why were you there?"
"I was a student, of anthropology. I asked you about Atlantis then and you were rather rude about it." The smile spread across his face as he teased her with his eyes.
She was still skeptical, but it did make sense. She would have taken his head off over Atlantis back then. It would also explain her blocking him out of her memory.
Maybe that was why she'd been dreaming about him lately. Maybe her subconscious had remembered him and his desire to find Atlantis.
"Anyway, it's why I'm here now. Like you, I want to find Atlantis."
She stiffened at those words. "Who says I'm after Atlantis?"
"You're an American in the Aegean with a scientific team, on a boat that's outfitted for probing and excavation. What else would you be after?"
"Any ancient artifact."
"Then why is it you wear an Atlantean coin around your neck?"
Her hand went straight to it. She'd had the coin mounted a month after her father's death to remind her of her promise to him. But what confused her most was the fact that the part with the writing was on the back. The part that showed to Arik was the image of the sunburst with three lightning bolts. "How do you know that?"
"That coin bears the symbol of Apollymi Magosa Fonia Kataastreifa."
"The Atlantean goddess of wisdom, death, and destruction. But she was mostly referred to in Atlantean as Apollymi Akrakataastreifa. Apollymi the Great Destroyer."
There was no way he could know that. Not unless he'd seen the mysterious symbol somewhere else. "Where have you seen the symbol? How do you know what it stands for?"
"I'm from an old Greek family. There is nothing about this area that I don't know. Nothing. I also know that even if you have found Atlantis, you'll never get a permit to excavate it."
It was true. She'd been trying for years to gain one. But she was persona non grata here.
Arik's eyes narrowed on her. "You allow me to stay on this boat as a member of your team, and I can guarantee you a permit for anything you need."
He shook his head. "I have more connections here than you can dream of. Literally."
"And how can I trust you?"
"How can you not? I'm the only hope you have of obtaining what you want most."
She sensed a strange double entendre there. "I don't trust you. How can you get my permits when you can't even remember your own name?"
"I've already told you my name."
"Arik and nothing else."
Arik smiled at her before he took a major risk. "Arik Catranides," he said, using Solin's human surname. It was a bold move given Solin's unpredictability, but his brother owed him this favor, and if he failed to cooperate, Arik would kill him.
Geary stared at Arik suspiciously. For over five years she'd been bogged down in red tape as the Greek government ran her around so badly she felt like a small plastic car trapped on a racetrack in an endless loop of frustration. She'd gotten nowhere and she was quite certain she'd slammed off the track a few times and landed in a tree… face first.
Was it possible for him to get her the permits she needed?
No. Hell no at that. Nothing is ever going to get them to budge and you know it. All she had to do was call his bluff and he'd retreat.
"Fine, you want to prove yourself to me, get the permits. But the only way you get to stay on this expedition is if I meet the man who signs them and I watch him put pen to paper. I don't want a forgery that lands me in jail."
"No forgeries. You can trust me, Geary. I promise."
Still not sure she could, or even should, she nodded grimly, then turned to leave. Before she could make a clean exit, he gently pulled her to a stop. She expected him to say something. Instead he merely stared at her with a breathtaking expression that was part incredulous and part devouring. No man had ever looked at her like that.
Face it, at six feet tall, she dwarfed most men, and though she wasn't hideous, she wasn't skinny or beautiful. She was just average and men who looked like Arik weren't interested in women who looked like her.
Except in their dreams…
Could this whole day be nothing more than a delusion? Was she dreaming even now?
Arik wanted to tell her that he was here for her and her alone. He wanted her to know what he'd gone through to get here, but from what he knew of humans, she wouldn't react well to that knowledge. Especially not about the part where he'd bartered her soul for it.
But from the moment he'd touched her, words escaped him. He wanted to taste her, to hold her.
She cocked a brow in expectation.
I want you with me, Megeara. Those words were on the tip of his tongue. They burned there, needing to be spoken. But to say them would cost him the very thing he was trying so hard to get.
"I need to contact my brother."
"Fine," she said softly. "You can see him once we dock."
"But I don't know where he is or how to find him. I'll need your help."
Her eyes turned suspicious once again.
"Geary," she said from between clenched teeth.
"Please, Geary. I have to find him."
She folded her arms over her chest. "What's his name?"
Her entire demeanor was one of doubt. "This better not be a trick, do you understand?"
"It's not a trick."
Still her eyes accused him. "Fine. You stay here and I'll let you know when we're back at the marina."
"I shall wait most anxiously."
She just bet he would. Giving him a warning glare, Geary backed out of the door and shut it tight. It was only then that she could breathe again.
Just what was she supposed to do now? Was there any validity to his claims? Or was he completely full of crap?
Unsure of what to believe, she headed topside where Brian and Teddy were chatting.
"Are you all right?" Brian asked as she joined them.
"I guess… oh hell, I don't know. Our newest passenger claims he can get us our permits."
Teddy laughed in disbelief. "What? Is he Zeus? Does he know the gods personally? 'Cause no offense, I think that's what it's going to take to get us any kind of permit."
Brian nodded. "I have to side with Teddy. It's beginning to look hopeless. I'm afraid I'm going to have pull my funding."
Geary was sick to her stomach at the news. Even though she was the co-owner of her father's salvage company, her money was so tied up that she couldn't touch the kind of cash she needed to fund these summer trips.
"I'm sorry, Geary. It's too costly and now we have no permits."
They'd never had permits. At least not legal ones.
"Can you give it a day? Arik swears his brother is good for it."
Teddy snorted in contempt. "Who is his brother? King Constantine?"
"Some guy named Solin Catranides."
Brian's jaw went slack.
A twinge of hope went through her. "You know him?"
"The multi-billionaire playboy? Uh, yeah, I know of him. But I've never been able to get close enough to meet him. He's always surrounded by a harem of women trying to become his next pampered mistress."
Geary frowned. That didn't sound like a guy who would have a brother floating in the Aegean.
"Do you know where we can find him?"
"I can make a few calls and see if my people can locate his people."
That worked for her. "Please do so. I want to know if Arik is lying."
Teddy scratched his cheek. "You know, it could be a different Solin Catranides."
She shook her head at Teddy. How many men could there possibly be with a name like that?
"Hey, you never know," he said defensively.
"Yeah, but what are the odds?"
Teddy laughed. "About as good as fishing a half-naked guy of the sea." He looked at Brian. "You've got to wonder about a guy like that. He wasn't drunk. What? Did he decide to take a swim twenty miles from shore? With no boat?"
"Oh, shut up, Teddy," Geary said playfully.
Brian left them to make his call on the satellite phone with Teddy following one step behind. But as she listened to Teddy's questions, she realized he wasn't being his usual puckish self. For once the man was making sense.
Why was Arik out here alone? How had he come to be in the sea when it was obvious the man couldn't swim?
"Are you okay?"
She turned to find Tory behind her. "I don't know. I'm wondering if maybe we should have left our mysterious swimmer in the water."
Tory frowned. "How not like you. Why would you say that?"
"There's something weird about him, don't you think?"
"You mean aside from the fact he was almost naked in the water?"
"Well, there is that."
Tory shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not the one who was really talking to him. What about him bothers you so?"
Geary smiled at her. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired."
"People only say that when they're not really willing to deal with the issue at hand. It's like when you ask a guy what he's thinking and he says 'nothing' but in reality you know he's checking out another woman and he doesn't want you to give him grief over it."
Geary gaped at her unexpected analogy.
"It's Thia's theory."
Geary shook her head. "I think you need to stay away from her before she corrupts you."
"Nah, it's too much fun. She has the most misguided views on everything. But I think what I just said is one of the few lucid thoughts she's ever managed."
Geary had to agree with that, too. "All right, Doogie Howser, go back to the books."
"You know, that's what you always say to me when I've hit too close to home with an observation."
She was right, but Geary wasn't about to let her know that. "Take your little scrawny self off and bug someone else before I make you a human sacrifice, Tor. I'm trying to think, okay?"
" 'Kay. I'll be below deck irritating Scott next if you need me."
Laughing, Geary watched her cousin walk off. God, how she loved that little girl. There was something very infectious about her.
Tory passed Brian in the doorway. By the look on his face, Geary could tell he had bad news.
She met him halfway across the deck. "What's up?"
"Apparently Solin is an only child. He has no brothers, sisters. Hell, not even a guinea pig."
Anger and victory whipped through her. "I knew it! I knew he was lying." Geary took Brian's arm and hauled him back the way he'd come.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to confront our guest with this and you're my witness."
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