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GEARY HADN'T GONE NEAR ARIK SINCE SHE'D LAST LEFT him. She had no idea whether or not she should believe him, and until she had more facts she wanted to be as reserved as possible where he was concerned.
They'd just docked and she was in the process of putting her things away for her trip back to town.
She looked up from the table as Tory burst into the room. "Holy Shinola, Gear, you've got to come see this!"
Frowning, she set her pad aside and followed Tory to the deck. Geary looked around but couldn't rind anything that should have excited Tory. Nothing looked out of place. Christof and Althea were going over inventory while a couple of the other sailors were checking the line. Thia was on the deck in a bikini, sunning herself.
Tory pointed toward the shore.
Geary followed the line of Tory's finger. And as soon as she saw what Tory was pointing to, her jaw dropped.
Holy Shinola nothing. Holy shit and then some.
Just at the edge of the dock was a white Rolls-Royce that had a driver in full chauffeur regalia standing by the door with his gloved hands folded in front of him.
But that wasn't the impressive part. Not by a long shot.
What made her gape was the hot piece of cheese who was on the dock, striding straight for them.
With shoulder-length black hair, the man had a gait that was just plain sexy. It was one of raw determination and extreme confidence. He wore a white linen suit with a pale blue shirt that had been left undone to show the promise of a very well-defined body. On any other man that suit might have brought his sexual preferences into question, but on this one there was no doubt. He was all male and all deadly.
A dark pair of Versace sunglasses covered his eyes, which she had a sneaking suspicion were trained on her.
Tory cleared her throat. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that he's Arik's brother. What do you think?"
Yeah, that would be her guess. They both held an identical arrogant swagger—as if the world were their stage and they were the only actor in town capable of playing on it.
Without a word to Tory, Geary moved forward to meet the man on the gangplank.
He paused in front of her with a hint of a grin an instant before he deftly removed the sunglasses. Her breath caught as she saw the same exact killer eyes that Arik possessed. It was followed by a dimpled smile so choice that it actually made her heart race.
He offered his hand to her. "You must be Megeara. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
She shook his hand, but before she could let go, he brought it to his lips and laid a very romantic kiss on her knuckles. Her hand actually tingled from the sensation of his lips on her skin. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well."
He released her at the same time the smile faded from his lips. His gaze slid past her.
She turned her head to find Arik standing there. He was silent and cool as he regarded his brother. So cool, in fact, she was about to get frostbite. There was definitely no love lost between them. They looked like two opposing soldiers sizing each other up before battle.
"Arik," Solin drawled in a velvet baritone. "Long time no see."
Arik inclined his head to Solin. "Yes, indeed. I hope you've been well."
Solin laughed. "It depends on whom you ask. Well has a variety of meanings. But I'm fit enough to cause problems. That really is all one can expect in life, no?"
"It's all I expect out of your life anyway."
Solin tsked at him. "And yet here you are, asking for my help. Call me crazy, but one would expect a little less belligerency."
Solin seemed to take his brother's challenge in stride as he turned to Geary. "So tell me, lovely lady, where on earth did you happen to find my wayward brother?"
She glanced at Arik over her shoulder to see him watching her before she answered. "Floating in the sea, but he won't tell me how it is he came to be there."
"Knowing Arik, I'm sure he angered someone who threw him in, hoping he'd drown."
"Actually they threw me in hoping I'd land on someone else and drown them. Unfortunately, you swam away too fast."
Geary had to stifle a laugh at Arik's unexpected comeback. He had a very dry sense of humor.
"Well, score one for you." Solin returned his sunglasses to his face. "I have the permits waiting, but as a favor to Stefan we should not keep him late in the office or he might change his mind."
Geary practically leapt forward. "Most definitely not."
As they headed for the dock, Thia came running up behind them… still in her bikini. The top of which barely held the woman's assets in. "May I join you?"
Solin gave her a speculative once-over that Geary was sure took in her cousin's mussed appearance that somehow managed to seen both seductive and naive.
"I think you should stay here, Thia."
Folding her arms over her chest, which only emphasized the size of said chest, Thia pouted. But it did nothing to change Geary's mind. If anything, it only cemented her decision more. The last thing any of them needed was for Thia to hook up with a billionaire playboy.
Before Geary could wrangle the men to the car, Solin approached Thia with that deadly swagger. He gave her a proper bow before taking her hand and placing a light kiss on it. "Don't fret, love. We'll be back."
Thia preened under his attention. At least until Arik cleared his throat. "Isn't she a bit young for you?"
Solin answered with a deep, evil laugh. His gaze went to Geary for an instant before he released Thia and headed for his car.
"What was that?" Geary asked Arik as they followed along after him.
"His idea of a joke. I'm afraid my brother is a bit of a head case most days. You'll have to forgive him. I'm told he has the intellect of a ten-year-old."
Solin snorted. "And still you aspire to my level. Wow, Arik. Does this mean you function on the intellect of an infant?"
Instead of being angry, Arik merely stared at his brother. "Perhaps. After all, infants and I do have at least one thing in common."
"And that is?"
Arik's gaze dropped to her breasts. "I think you can figure it out. Then again, maybe not. You are, after all, only functioning on the level of a ten-year-old."
Geary had never been aroused, amused, and highly offended all at the same time before. It was a strange combination. "Could we please change this topic?"
Solin paused at the car as his chauffeur opened the door for him. "Yes, let's."
They allowed her to enter first. Arik followed her in and then Solin. He sat across from them, and even though she couldn't see his eyes, she could tell his gaze was fastened on her.
When he spoke there was no mistaking the note of humor in his tone. "So you seek Atlantis. What an odd quest for such a beautiful lady."
Unlike Thia, Geary wasn't buying into his act. "You charm me, sir. I'm hardly beautiful."
"Not true. All women are beautiful and a woman such as you… I'm willing to bet there are some men who are willing to barter their souls just to be close to you."
She laughed out loud. "You should sell snake oil. I'm told it's highly profitable."
"Yes, but I've already made my fortune in other things."
"Viagra," Arik said drily. "My brother learned to take a personal problem and profit by it."
"It's true," Solin agreed with a heavy sigh. "It pained me to see a man as young as Arik stricken with impotency. Therefore I had to do something to help the poor soul. But alas, there's nothing to be done for it. He's as flaccid as a wet noodle."
Geary had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
Arik didn't miss a beat on his comeback. "How creative of you to project your problem onto me. But then they say that celibacy is enough to make a man lose all reason. Guess you're living proof, huh?"
"Are you two going to battle like this for the rest of the trip?" Geary asked. "Perhaps I should sit up front with the driver and give you two enough space to beat the crap out of each other and settle this like grown adolescents."
Solin gave her a half-amused grin. "No need for that. I think we can manage a bit of a truce… for your benefit anyway."
"Hmm… makes me wonder why you're being so kind to Arik and me when it's obvious you two aren't exactly friendly."
Solin shrugged. "We're Greek. Family is family no matter what, and we always take care of our own. Right, Arik?"
"Yes… in more ways than one."
At that point, Geary gave up. There was something very odd about both men. Maybe she was crazy for even being here with them.
A tremor of fear went through her at that thought. Was she crazy? She'd jumped into the car so fast…
She really didn't know anything about these guys. She'd been so excited she hadn't even paused to be her usual suspicious self.
"Are you all right?" Solin asked.
"Fine," she said, trying to calm herself. But it was hard as her imagination took off with images of them raping and murdering her.
Solin removed his sunglasses. "You're looking a bit pale. You're not thinking that we've kidnapped you so that we can have our way with you, are you, Doctor?"
"No." she said, hating the slight tremor in her voice. Her only consolation was that Brian knew Solin and the crew had seen his car. And all of them knew they were heading to the permits' office. "Why would I ever think such a thing? I mean, I've known you both what? All of fifteen minutes. Maybe Arik makes it a habit of diving into the sea to catch unsuspecting women so he can lure them into your limo."
Solin passed an amused look to Arik. "Is that how you work, Brother?"
"No. Unlike some people I know, I don't like to frighten women. I find it tiresome." Arik turned in the seat to give her a sincere look. "I'm not here to rape you, Megeara. I told you, you were safe, and you are."
She didn't know why, but she believed him. "I'm sorry. It's just been a really bad week for me. Everything has literally turned against me and I've had one disappointment too many."
Solin arched a brow.
Arik glanced at his brother as he heard Solin's voice in his head. "Disappointed her, have you? And you call yourself an Erotikos Skotos."
He narrowed his eyes. "Not me, Solin. She's been harassed by your officials who won't allow her to excavate."
"Um-hmmm…funny, whenever I'm preoccupied with a human, she's too busy trying to get back to me in her dreams to bother with such innocuous quests."
"Megeara is different."
By Solin's face Arik could tell his brother found that hard to believe. "So tell me, how do you find the human world? Have you ever been here before?"
Solin arched a surprised brow. "Are you overwhelmed by it?"
"Hardly. But I find parts of it confusing. It's very different from being in dreams."
Solin grinned. "You've no idea."
Megeara turned to Arik. "So why is Atlantis so important to you? I mean, if you could get permits this easily, why haven't you?"
Arik hated having to lie to her, but if he didn't give her some plausible answers, as skittish as she was, she'd flee and never let him near her again. "I didn't know where to dig for it. All of my research turned up nothing. It wasn't until I was speaking with Spiro the other day and he mentioned you that I had a clue."
"Gavrilopoulos. He turned you down two weeks ago." And luckily she'd mentioned the event and the man's name to Arik in her dreams. "I've been looking for you ever since to ask you about your findings. He said you were most emphatic about the site you wanted to excavate."
She sat back in the seat with a peeved expression. "So you know the little weasel."
"Weasel?" Solin asked curiously.
"Hmm… he laughed so hard over my request I thought he was going to choke and die from it."
Arik tried to placate her. "He can be a little callous."
"Callous, nothing. He was downright rude."
"Well," Solin drawled, "your luck is about to change."
Geary wanted to believe that. She could use a bit of good luck in her life. And if not good, then at least mediocre.
Needing to distract herself from that line of thought, she looked at Arik. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be interested in anthropology. Both he and Solin seemed too self-absorbed to think about the past or the future. They appeared more the "me, me, me, now, now, now" kind.
"So what got you so interested in Atlantis?" she asked Arik. "How did you know what my necklace was?"
His eyes gleamed with amusement. "Do you ever ask a single question?"
"Sorry. It's the professor in me. One question invariably leads to another, and so as not to waste time, I generally ask both and then seek the answer. And speaking of, you still haven't answered my last two."
"Yes, Arik," Solin said with a hint of laughter in his voice. "Why are you so fascinated by Atlantis?"
Arik cut a nasty glare at his brother that she couldn't even begin to fathom. Why would that question upset him?
"I'm always intrigued by the unknown," Arik said, glancing back at her. "They say Atlantis is a myth, but I know better. I believe in it." He met Solin's gaze. "In fact, I think the gods still walk among us, even here and now."
Solin made a rude noise at Arik's conjecture.
Geary frowned at him. After the way her father had been treated while being right, she wasn't about to laugh at anyone else's beliefs. It pained her to see Solin so cruel. "You still haven't explained how you knew what my necklace was."
"I know a man who wears a similar medallion. He was the one who first told me stories of Atlantis."
Her jaw went slack at Arik's revelation. Someone else had found one? "Really?"
She was intrigued by the possibility. "Is he Greek? How did you meet? Could I meet him? I'd love to know where he got his necklace."
Arik shook his head. "Again with the multiple questions."
"Time is fleeting and I need answers."
He took pity on her. "Yes, he's Greek, and I met him back when I was very young. Sadly, he no longer mentions Atlantis. I think there's something about it that grieves him."
"You have no idea," Solin said with a laugh. "Acheron would kill you to hear you speak of him in such a manner."
Arik kicked at his brother's foot before he turned his attention back to Geary. "But enough about me. What changed your mind about finding it?"
"My father. I promised him when he died that I'd find it for him."
"That was kind of you."
Geary looked away as her emotions choked her. She only wished she'd been kinder to him when he'd been alive.
Solin let out a long breath as if her emotions upset him, too. "Well, let's all get maudlin, shall we?" He reached up and pressed a button for the intercom to buzz his driver.
"George, stop on the way and get us some red-hot pokers to put out our eyes. Oh, and while you're at it, I think we should see about adding salt for our wounds, too."
"Quite good, sir," the driver said in a dry tone. Then without missing a beat, he continued, "Is there any particular place you'd care for me to stop? I've heard the market is a good place for pokers. That is, if you're agreeable to a short detour."
Solin appeared to consider it. "What do you two think? Run-of-the-mill pokers, or a better quality? Oh hell, why not use rusty spoons? They'd hurt more."
Geary shook her head. "You are a sick man."
Solin arched a brow at her. "So are you telling me you're going to pass on my offer?"
"Call me crazy, but yeah. I think I'll pass."
"Okay. Thanks, George. It appears we'll go without the pokers after all."
"Very good, sir. Should I still stop for that salt?"
Again Solin appeared to seriously consider it before he answered. "No, I think we're fine for now."
"Very good, sir."
Geary let out a nervous laugh as she glanced back and forth between Solin and Arik. The two of them were so odd. And they had the most offbeat humor she'd ever encountered. "You two must have been a lot of fun growing up. I'll bet your poor parents are still having nightmares."
Solin burst out laughing. "Oh, you have no idea."
"I feel like I'm on the outside of this inside joke you two keep passing around."
"Ignore Solin," Arik said quietly. "I told you he's demented."
"Yes, but I taught Arik well. Didn't I, Brother?"
Geary didn't miss the fleeting glimmer of rage in Arik's eyes. It was subtle but unmistakable.
The car slowed down and turned a corner that Geary knew better than the street where her flat was. She'd walked this way so many times over the last five years that she could do it blindfolded.
They were almost there.
Frustrated doom settled like a lump in her chest as the driver parked on the street in the same exact location the taxi had used earlier that day.
It's just getting better and better.
The driver opened the door to let her out on the sidewalk. Arik came out behind her and then Solin, who left the car with a masculine flourish. Several women on the street practically swooned.
"Greetings, my lovelies," Solin said flirtatiously as he gave them a seductive grin.
They whispered among themselves as they continued on their way while glancing back to look at him.
Arik passed a droll look to Geary. "Strange how women can't help staring at a train wreck, eh?"
Solin rolled his eyes at Arik's remark. "Like you would know."
"True. I'm never a train wreck myself. I merely admire the way you skid from the tracks and burn."
As they approached the government building, a uniformed guardsman opened the door to admit them.
Geary started for the stairs only to have Solin divert her. "We don't go up there with the average people. Our man is this way."
She frowned at Arik before she followed Solin into an elegant office that was filled with Greek antiquities. The anthropologist in her was instantly fascinated by the perfectly preserved black figure vase in a glass trophy case. She'd never seen a more preserved piece. It was absolutely exquisite.
She splayed her hand against the glass as she stared in awe of the piece. "It's from the first century."
She sensed Arik standing behind her. "The battle of Troy. You can see Achilles dragging Hector around the walls."
Geary nodded as she saw them. "There's not a chip on it."
"Which is why it's in the case."
She turned at the perturbed voice to find a portly gentleman in his early sixties. She'd seen him here a time or two when she'd come in the past, but she had no idea of his name or job title.
He rocked back and forth on his heels as he sized her up. "Dr. Kafieri, I presume?"
He narrowed a look on her that said he didn't think much of her before he let out a suffering sigh. He turned toward Solin. "I hope you won't forget this favor."
"Believe me, I won't."
The portly man gave a curt nod before he took them into a small office with a black desk that was scattered with papers.
Geary's heart stopped as she saw the very things she'd been craving.
She wanted to run to them, snatch them up, and cradle them to her chest. But without a signature and seal, they were worthless. Still, this was the closest she'd been to one. Her breath caught anxiously in her throat.
Without a word, he picked the permits up as if they didn't mean the world to her and sat behind his desk before he signed them and stamped them.
She reached for the permits without thinking, only to have him pull them away.
Again he narrowed those penetrating eyes on her. "You do understand that any artifact you find is Greek property? I expect full records to be delivered to me on a weekly basis, along with any findings you uncover."
He held the papers a moment longer before he finally extended them to her.
Her hand actually shook as she finally touched the permits. Honestly, she felt like crying. This was the closest she'd been to fulfilling her promise since Cosmo had given her her father's belongings. "Thank you," she said, her voice cracking from the raw emotions inside her.
"Don't thank me, Dr. Kafieri. Just respect your word to me and the favor I've done today. If I regret this moment, I assure you what I feel will be a trifle to what I'll put you through."
"I understand, sir. Believe me, you won't regret this at all."
"Then see to it that I don't."
Nodding, she held the permits to her chest and turned to offer Arik a tenuous smile.
Arik couldn't breathe as foreign emotions seized him. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears, but it was the gratitude in them that touched him most. He'd never felt anything like this. Her pleasure was so great that he could feel it himself.
"Thank you," she breathed.
All he could do was nod his head at her as he struggled to understand these strange emotions in him that made no sense. His throat was tight. His heart pounding. He wanted to laugh and to cry and he didn't know why. He'd never known such confusion. No wonder Hades had profaned emotions.
They were baffling.
Solin inclined his head toward the door. "Why don't the two of you go on to the car. I'll be out momentarily."
Arik opened the door for Megeara.
He'd barely closed it when she turned on him with a giddy laugh. She threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek as she jumped up and down against him.
Heat scorched him as her breasts pressed against his chest and her soft lips brushed his skin before she pulled away. "I can't thank you enough for this." She let out a strange noise before she twirled around. "Oh my God, I can't believe this. I can't believe I'm finally holding my permits! Legal ones, too, and I didn't have to kill anyone to get them!" She made a strange "yee"-like noise before she hugged him again.
Unable to stand the onslaught to his body, he pulled her to him and kissed her.
Geary melted at that taste of Arik's lips. She was so excited and happy, she'd have done anything for him at the moment. Anything!
Or so she thought.
The moment he started lifting the hem of her dress up, she jerked back with an indignant squeak. Her jubilation snapped straight to anger. "What do you think you're doing?"
He looked completely baffled by her anger. "I thought…"
"What? That you could lift my dress and screw me in an open hallway? Are you insane?"
Solin froze in the doorway as he heard her words. "What did I just miss?"
She turned on him. "Your brother is an absolute jerk. He just picked my dress up. Here. In public." And still Arik looked confused by her anger.
Disgusted with them both, Geary turned and stalked back toward the car.
Solin gaped at Arik. "What did you do?"
Arik held his hands up in frustration. "She kissed me. It turned me on, so I—"
"No, you didn't," Solin snapped, interrupting him. "Arik, are you an idiot? You could have exposed us all."
Rage flamed inside him at the insult. "It's what we've done before when she's gotten the permits in her dreams. She likes the way I touch her."
"Yes. In dreams. This isn't a dream. You're in the human world and people don't behave like that here. Now, Brother, you understand why I venture into the dream realm. There are certain behaviors and rituals you have to practice in this world. You don't just eye a woman here and then jump her. Damn. You're lucky she didn't slap you, or have you arrested."
Arik raked his hand through his hair as he understood her anger, but it didn't do anything to sate the fire in his groin. "I came here to be with her."
"And you keep that up and you'll spend your time here behind bars. Damn, Arik, damn."
"I told you I needed your help."
Solin ground his teeth at those words. It wasn't in his nature to help anyone. Unlike Arik, he wasn't a full god. He'd been tossed out into the world of man and left here to suffer while the rest of his kind lived on Olympus or the Vanishing Isle, far away from the prejudice and fear of humans. And if that wasn't enough, the gods themselves had come after him to punish him over a birth defect he'd never wanted. He'd barely survived their relentless attacks.
Now one of them expected him to offer a help that had never been extended to him. It was almost enough to make him laugh.
He wasn't even sure why he'd come here today. Arik's threat of invading his sleep meant nothing to a man who'd had assassins after him in that realm. He'd earned his reputation for ruthlessness and he was proud of it.
Yet in all these centuries he'd never heard of a god trading his sanctity to be human. The only gods on this plane had been cursed or stripped. No one lived in this realm voluntarily.
Except Arik. "Why are you here? Really?"
Arik looked away without comment.
"Answer my question or I walk." He saw the anguish in Arik's eyes before he spoke in a low tone.
"You've always been human. You've always had feelings. You don't know what it's like to have them and then feel them leave you. The numbness is tolerable most of the time. But with Megeara…"
"You love her?"
Arik gave him a peeved glare. "How could I ever love anyone?"
He had a point. Self-sacrifice and such were alien concepts to Dream-Hunters.
Arik let out a deep breath. "I just want to understand where her passion comes from. Why something as simple as a drink of lemonade can make her laugh. Why her eyes light up when she dances in the waves. And why the thought of her father makes her cry, even in dreams."
Solin shook his head. Unlike his brother, Solin understood all of that. Emotions weren't a gift. They were the ultimate curse of the gods. What Arik didn't realize was that Zeus had done them a favor by demanding they be stripped of all their feelings.
It was why Solin had unleashed the human on Arik all those centuries ago. He'd been jealous of the emptiness the Oneroi lived in and he'd wanted them to suffer the way he had. He wanted them to crave things they couldn't touch.
To know what they were missing.
What he'd done had been cruel and he knew it. But the sad thing was he felt no regret over it. How could he? Even now the Oneroi sought him in his sleep. He never had rest. No respite. They were evil bastards, all of them.
And yet as he stood here with a brother he didn't want to claim, something foreign tickled in Solin's chest. It was pity. Compassion. Two things he'd sworn he'd never feel again for anyone.
He hated Arik for that.
"Will you help me?" Arik asked.
Solin nodded. He'd help Arik all right, but not for the reasons he thought. Solin was going to do everything in his power to let Arik be human. To know Megeara to the fullest extent that was possible, so that when she died because of him Arik would truly understand exactly what it meant to be human.
He was going to suffer as no god had ever suffered.
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