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GEARY STOOD IN FRONT OF THE FULL-LENGTH MIRROR, exhausted by her day and yet strangely thrilled at the prospect of being with Arik. She hadn't been on a date in over a year, and the last one had been particularly bad. She'd made the mistake of accepting an offer for dinner from a man she'd met at the local market. Since she'd spent a great deal of time in Europe, she was used to the differences in culture. But this guy…
He'd been commanding, controlling, and worst of all had monopolized the entire dinner conversation—which had mostly been about how great he was and how he'd make the world a better place if he were emperor. Of course, in her opinion, he'd be dragged through the streets and stoned fifteen minutes after he took that office.
She should have been so lucky—it was a pity the man hadn't been crowned emperor before their dinner.
It'd been the only time in her life she'd actually considered crawling out of the bathroom window to escape an obnoxious date.
If only she hadn't been in a low-cut dress and high heels…
Tonight she had on pants and low-heeled Clarks—just in case.
"Geary, Mr. Arik is here for your date."
She smiled at Tory's loud voice, which was followed by a high-pitched meow from Kichka, and was again overwhelmed with gratitude that no one had been hurt today. Geary honestly wouldn't be able to survive knowing she'd killed someone in her quest.
Nothing was worth sacrificing a human life for.
Pushing that thought away before she became completely maudlin, Geary checked her makeup one more time, especially since she wasn't used to wearing it and hoped that she hadn't applied it too darkly. Or, more to the point, that she didn't look like a Kabuki actor.
"You can do this," she said to her reflection, trying to bolster her confidence. It was only dinner. She could survive that. There were no strings attached. Just two humans having food and good conversation…
Which she hoped wouldn't end with Arik thinking he was an all-powerful god of the known universe.
She pulled her light crocheted sweater out from under Kichka, who meowed in protest before swatting her hand with an indignant paw, then headed to the living room, where Tory was sitting with a copy of Plato's Republic in ancient Greek on her lap. Geary laughed. "Don't you ever get bored reading that?"
"Not really. There's always something in it that I missed the last time. The man is really, really deep."
Geary shook her head. "You're a sick girl, Tor. Sick, sick, sick."
"I know. I come by it honestly." She gave Geary a meaningful look over the top of her glasses.
"It's true," Geary agreed. "We come from a long line of people who live to read boring texts—I think it may be why we all die young. Complete boredom."
Tory stuck her tongue out at her.
Geary paused as she saw Arik waiting by the door. He was positively striking in a black suit with a white silk shirt that had the top two buttons undone to show a delectably tanned neck. His black hair curled becomingly around his face and shoulders while those crystal blue eyes radiated heat and intensity. For the first time since they'd met, he was clean shaven, which made him appear somewhat more tamed and cultured. But only a tiny bit. There was still that aura of raw power that emanated from him.
As she drew near, he handed her a bouquet of white roses. Geary smiled at the gesture as she took them and cupped them to her nose so that she could inhale their sweet scent. "Thank you."
"My pleasure." Then he crossed the room and handed a smaller bouquet off to Tory, who actually put her book down and beamed happily.
"For me, too?"
He nodded. "Least I could do for the woman who introduced me to fudge Pop-Tarts."
Tory squeaked as she took them and buried her face in their soft petals. "I love roses. Thank you."
Geary kissed his cheek before she handed her roses to Tory to take care of. "Are you sure you're going to be all right by yourself?"
Tory scoffed. "You're the one wigging out over today, not me. I'm fine. You two go and have fun. I have plenty of stuff here to entertain me with. Plato rocks."
Geary glanced to the mountain of ancient Greek books on the coffee table and knew that Tory would be up all night reading. The girl really was insane. "Okay. But if you need anything, call Teddy. He said he was staying home tonight."
"Will do, Captain."
Arik opened the door for Geary to walk through. She paused as she saw Solin's limousine on the street, waiting for them. "Should I be afraid?"
He offered her his arm. "Not at all. Solin has already prepped me on how to behave tonight. No public gropings no matter how much you turn me on. He even showed me how to use cutlery so that I wouldn't embarrass you."
Geary frowned, wondering if he was joking. He didn't seem to be, but surely…
Her thoughts drifted as she entered the car with Arik behind her. A weird sense of déjà vu went through her, along with the scent of his aftershave and the strength of his body. He was a choice specimen who caused every part of her to sit up and beg for attention.
How she wished she had more of Thia in her. If she did, she and Arik would be getting naughty and naked in the back of the limo and poor George would be going blind from their raucous play. But she wasn't that type of woman. All she could do was dream...
Arik sucked his breath in as Megeara slid over the seat to the opposite window. The way she moved, slow and easy, reminded him of her sliding over his body. If this were a dream he'd be able to pull her to him and kiss her until they were naked and blind with pleasure.
His swollen cock burned with need. But unfortunately, this wasn't a dream and she would probably have his head if he tried… and he didn't mean the one on his shoulders.
"You look incredible," he said as George shut the door.
Her cheeks pinkened. "Thank you. You look pretty good yourself."
He smiled. "Good. Solin can live another day."
"What do you mean?"
"He's the one who told me what to wear tonight. I didn't know if I should trust him or not, though. He's not the most reliable of people."
Her eyes softened as if she understood. "You two have an odd relationship, don't you?"
"You could say that. It often reminds me of a blowfish and a barracuda."
"Interesting analogy. So which one is you and which is Solin?"
He winked at her. "I'll leave that for you to decide."
Not sure what would least insult him, Geary didn't speak while they drove to a small seaside café. Her heart clenched as they left the car and she realized where they were.
Arik paused as he noticed her hesitancy. "Are you all right?"
She had to force herself to respond over the lump of sadness in her throat. "Yeah. Sorry. I was just thinking about something."
She pointed to an old brick wall across the street that was beside a set of stone stairs that had been worn by intensive foot traffic over time, and the elements. "My brother and I used to climb over that wall when we were kids. We'd pretend it was the wall of Troy." She gave him a sheepish look. "Yeah, I know, we were strange children. Jason would play Hector and I was always Achilles. We'd lob dirt clods and rocks at each other until either one of us was bleeding or my father would yell at us to stop. Then we'd sneak attack each other and plot our revenge."
She took a deep breath to stave off the pain. "God, how we'd play. Then when we were older, Jason used to come here to sit at this café and sketch what he thought this whole area would have looked like centuries ago." The corner table that he would always lay claim to because it had the best view was still there just as it had always beer. The table looked as if it were waiting for the young man who would never again pass this way.
Her eyes misting, she looked up at Arik as all those memories ripped through her. Jason would spend hours telling her his concepts for his drawings. He'd been so precise and detailed in his descriptions that there were times when she would have sworn he had to have lived back then to know them all. How she wondered what he'd have been like now. What he'd think of her…
Shaking her head, she tried to dispel her bittersweet memories and the grief they caused.
"Can you imagine what the island must have looked like a thousand years ago? Two thousand?" she asked Arik.
Arik wished he had his powers. If he did, he would have granted her that wish. In one heartbeat, he could have shown her exactly what this place had looked like—firsthand.
Then again, he did have that power in another realm. "I'll bet when you dream tonight you'll see it."
He saw the doubt in her eyes before she answered. "Sure. Why not? I dream of enough other weird stuff."
She blinked before she stepped away. "Nothing. Shall we eat?"
He hated whenever she closed herself off from him.
Especially when he knew how much more she was hiding. But then he'd known her for a while now.
In her mind, they'd just met and they were all but strangers.
Regretting the necessity of that, Arik directed her toward the café. Solin had prepped him on how to greet the hostess and request a seat, but it was still very strange. It was odd how people left such trivial matters out of dreams. They simply cut to the chase and didn't waste valuable time with incidentals. If someone wanted to eat, they were in the restaurant, eating. There was none of this getting to it and requesting tables or waiting.
Dreams really were superior to reality.
After a bit of a wait, Arik and Megeara were seated at a table that overlooked the sea. Even though it was dark, they could still hear the surf and see the whitecaps as they rolled onto shore. Lights from boats and buildings in the distance twinkled like stars that had fallen to earth, while the smell of cooking food made his stomach grumble and cramp.
Arik was surprised by the sensation. He'd never been really hungry before. And the sights and sounds were overwhelming as they brought a peculiar ache to his chest. He didn't understand the source of it. He felt sad and happy for no apparent reason, and when he looked at Megeara all he wanted to do was reach out and touch her. To ask her if the sight and sounds made her feel the same way.
"I've never eaten here before," Megeara said as she skimmed her menu. "What do you recommend?"
He frowned as he looked at his menu and wondered what he should suggest. "I don't know. I didn't think to ask that of Solin. Is that something a date normally knows?"
She gave him an arch stare. "Only if the date has eaten at the restaurant before." Then she chided him, "Don't tell me you've never been on a date."
Arik realized he'd already made another mistake. She would never believe that he'd reached whatever age he appeared to be without having taken out a woman—it would be completely illogical for a human male to have kept to himself. "No, I have… just not like this."
She still wasn't buying it. "Not like this how?"
Think, Arik, think. "With a woman."
Her other brow raised as she gave him an amused smile. "So you've been on dates with men?"
Smooth move. Solin was right. He was a moron. "No, no. What I mean is that I've never asked a woman out on a formal date. I usually spend an evening or two with them and then leave." There, that sounded better and it was the truth.
"Then you what?" she asked, her voice tinged by anger. "You leave them waiting by the phone for a call that never comes? How wonderfully kind of you."
Why the sarcasm? What had he said that was so upsetting?
"No, that's not what I meant." How could one man get himself into so much trouble with just words? But he could tell from her body language and the fury in her eyes that he wasn't helping himself in this at all. "Why are you being so hostile to me, Megeara?"
"I'm not hostile. I'm merely trying to understand you and the things you keep telling me. I mean how did you manage in Nashville with such a limited understanding of people and how things work?"
Nashville? What was she talking about now? He'd never heard of such a thing before. He was constantly baffled by her. "What is Nashville?"
She gave him a "duh" stare. "Where you claim to have met me. Remember?"
He shook his head. "No. That was Vanderbilt where we met."
"Yes, and Vanderbilt is located in Nashville, Tennessee."
Arik froze as he realized what he'd just done. In her dreams she'd never made mention of what town the school was in, and since he wasn't from this plane there was no way for him to know it.
He cleared his throat as he tried, yet again, to cover his blunder. "Oh, it's been a long time."
Instead of being comforted, she looked even more suspicious. "Six years isn't that long ago, especially not for a man who remembered me so well. And I don't see how a man raised in rural Greece could forget his trip to a bustling American city so easily, either. What's going on, Arik?" She narrowed her eyes on him. "You didn't meet me there, did you?"
"Of course I did," he said defensively. He had no choice except to try to brazen this out. "Why would I lie about that?"
Geary didn't know what to think. But something wasn't right with all of this. She could feel it in her gut and she could see it on his face. He was hiding something extremely important about their meeting. "How should I know why you'd lie? But you're not who you say you are, are you?"
Yeah, right. "Be honest with me, Arik. Who the hell are you?"
"I've told you. I'm Arik Cantranides."
"Yeah, you keep saying that, but why don't I believe it?"
"I can't imagine. It's the truth."
Still, her gut warned her to put distance between them. Had they been alone, she would have. But they had plenty of people around them and she wanted some answers. "Tell me the truth, Arik. Why are you here with me?"
"I just want to spend time with you."
Wrong answer. "You keep saying that."
"Because it's true. I swear it."
She clenched her teeth as a wave of anger went over her. Why couldn't he tell her what was going on? Honestly, she was getting tired of his cryptic ways and things about him that just didn't add up. "I don't believe you."
"Then what do you believe?"
She didn't know, but the more the thought it over, the less any of it made sense. Something wasn't right with this. With him. She knew it. And his constant denials were making her feel as if she were losing her mind.
Glancing away, she caught sight of an incredibly intense man who was staring straight at them. At least six six and with an aura of "don't look at me or I'll kick your ass," he was wearing a long black leather coat and dark sunglasses even though it was nighttime. He had a small goatee and short black hair. There was something ominous about him. It was as if he was looking for someone to fight and kill.
She had to drag her gaze from him, back to Arik. "Do you know him?"
He followed her line of vision to see the man who was now making his way toward them. There was a knowing smile on the man's sardonic lips as he paused at the table next to them. The "killer" whisked his coat off with a flourish, and as he moved, a tattoo of a double bow and arrow on his biceps peeked out from beneath his sleeve.
"Evening, folks," he said to them in Greek as he took a seat.
"Good evening," she answered.
Arik merely inclined his head. But there was no missing his tenseness. He didn't like the newcomer and it was obvious.
"Is he a friend of yours?" she asked in a low tone.
Arik cursed silently at the presence of the Dark-Hunter. Immortal warriors in the service of Artemis, they protected mankind from the things that would prey on them. No doubt the Dark-Hunter could sense the essence of Arik's soul. Even though he was technically human at this time, he still had the soul of an immortal, and since Dark-Hunters were the protectors of human souls the Dark-Hunter would know that Arik wasn't human.
Could the Dark-Hunter's timing have been any worse? Megeara was already suspicious enough. The last thing Arik needed was her asking questions about immortal vampire slayers.
And then he felt it. It was a whisper against his soul. A touch.
The Dolophoni had found him. Their presence on this plane was unmistakable. They were here and they were looking for a fight. He glanced around the restaurant and street but couldn't find anything out of place. Everyone around him, except for the Dark-Hunter, was human.
"Is something wrong?" Megeara asked as she noticed Arik's fidgeting.
He knew the smile he offered her was extremely fake. "No. Nothing."
"You don't look like nothing's wrong. You look really nervous all of a sudden. What? You owe the guy next to us money or something?"
How he wished it were that simple. No, he owed one Greek god a human soul and a dozen more his life. Yeah… well, it was time to put a stop to at least one side of that statement. "I just need a moment. You wait here and I'll be right back."
Geary frowned as Arik got up and left her alone. She didn't know what concerned her more, the strange man at the table next to her who kept looking over as if he knew a secret she didn't or Arik's peculiar behavior.
"You have an interesting friend there," the man said.
Geary cocked her head as she picked up a slight brogue in his Greek. "Are you Scottish?"
He laughed before he answered her in English. "I used to be something like that."
Geary frowned at his words. What? Something like a Scot? Was the man a Pict? He had the bearing of one of their ancient breed… Yeah, right. That would only make him a couple of thousand years old.
She buried her sarcasm before she spoke again. "Do you know Arik?"
The man nodded before he looked off into the direction where Arik had vanished. "I met him a long time ago. He helped me out of a bad situation. He's helped a lot of people over the years."
There was an odd note in his voice, Dubious. And it made her wonder if Arik was a drug dealer or some other criminal. "Helped them how?"
"With this and that."
The vagueness was really starting to wear on her and it made her suspicions climb. Why wouldn't he tell her unless she was right and it was something highly illegal? Maybe they were arms dealers—Solin had never answered her question about what he did for a living. Ah jeez, that would be her luck. Hooking up with wanted fugitives.
She lifted her water glass up in a mocking toast. "Thanks for being ever so helpful."
He took her salute in stride. "My pleasure really. Have a good night."
Have a good night. Why did that not seem possible? 'Cause I'm having dinner with an arms dealer. Or some other kind of criminal. She dismissed that thought in favor of another one. Where was Arik? He should have come back by now.
As if he heard her question, the man at the other table cocked his head as if listening to the air around them. His face turned to stone before he got up and jumped over the small chain that separated the café area from the street. He quickly made his way to the side of the building and vanished without even looking back at his coat.
What was that not so stealth action?
Geary knew that where he was going and what he intended was none of her business and yet she felt a deep compulsion to follow after him.
Don't be stupid. He could be an undercover cop of some sort. Hell, he could even be CIA. Interpol. Scotland Yard. Even an assassin or space alien. Her imagination went wild with possibilities.
But before she could stop herself, her curiosity won out and she got up and headed in the same direction where he'd disappeared.
Even as she went, she called herself every name she could think of. How stupid was this? What kind of idiot chased after a man who looked like a killer and was heading off into who knew what? I'll stick to the shadows and if it gets bad, or looks scary, I'll run right back.
You're an imbecile, Gear, a total flaming imby!
But the silent berating stopped the instant she entered the alley to find Arik in the middle of a fight with the same twins she'd seen him fighting in her forgotten dreams. In one instant, the entire fight on the beach came rushing back to her.
Geary froze as she gaped at the impossibility of what she was seeing. This could not be happening.
The man she'd followed approached the twins slowly, with purpose. Arik was bleeding as he kicked one twin back and the other backed up to confront the newcomer.
"Stay out of this, Dark-Hunter," the twin warned the man she'd followed. "This doesn't concern you."
He shook his head. "Arikos and I go way back. You want to fight him… it involves me."
The twin started for him, but Arik ran at the twin and knocked him into the wall. Arik's gaze met hers and she saw his concern for her. "Get Megeara," he snarled at the one called Dark-Hunter. "Keep her safe."
The other twin literally ripped Arik away from his brother before he twisted open a butterfly knife and plunged it into Arik's side. Blood instantly soaked his shirt and poured over the man's hand.
Geary choked on a scream as she saw the pain on Arik's face. He gasped an instant before his eyes narrowed in anger.
"We're not in the dream realm now," the twin snarled into his ear, "and you're not so tough here, are you, Skotos?"
Arik hissed before he head-butted the twin and knocked him away. Then Arik jerked the knife from his side and held it in a bloodied fist. "Don't dismiss me, asshole. Here or there, I can still kick your ass." He moved to stab the twin, only to have the other twin lunge at him.
The Dark-Hunter caught Arik's attacker and kicked him back.
Geary turned to go for the police and instead ran into a huge man who had a demeanor so lethal and a body so solid that he should rent himself out as a wrecking ball. His face bore the wrath of hell as he pushed past her and threw his hand out.
All four men hit the ground hard, as if they'd been struck by something invisible. Including Arik, who lay on his back.
But the twins shot up immediately and when she said "shot up" she meant "shot" up. They literally cleared the ground by five feet as they arced from where they'd fallen to land just in front of the newcomer.
They stood before him united in strength and power. It was as if they existed in perfect symmetry.
"Stay out of this, Zebulon," the one on the right warned in a ragged voice full of venom. It was so raw and primal that it sent a shiver of fear over Geary.
Zebulon shook his head as if he couldn't believe them. "You guys come to my town, you don't call. You don't write. And you expect me to just let you run amok in front of the humans? Really, Deimos, don't tread here unless you want to bleed."
The other twin bared his teeth. "He belongs to us." He turned toward Arik, then froze.
"I'm not your bitch, Phobos. You didn't drag me out of the pound to put a collar on me. Don't expect me to heel because you say so. You are on my turf now. Think about it."
Deimos curled his lip. "We were sent here for him. How dare you interfere with the gods."
Geary took a step back as she again heard the female voice in her head telling her to take note. Note of what? Her fleeing intelligence? The fact that she was having a massive hallucination?
She was losing her mind… she knew it. But even so, she had to check on Arik. He was bleeding profusely and lay on the ground as if he was heading into shock.
Zebulon scoffed at the twins. "Did you miss my job description? Or were you just not paying attention the day I busted heads on Olympus? Fucking with you people is what I do. It's what I live for and I'm really tired of you now."
The twins vanished instantly.
Ignoring her, Zebulon inclined his head toward the Dark-Hunter. "You all right, Trieg?"
"I'm not the one bleeding, ZT, That's a question best asked of Arikos."
Geary was already at his side. Arik lay on the ground with his hand over the wound that was bleeding profusely. The blood coated his fingers and made her stomach wrench at the sight of it. The wound was so deep, she could actually see exposed bone. Sweat covered his face as he kept his jaw clenched to deal with the pain.
She brushed the hair back from his brow. "We need to get you an ambulance."
"Not really," Zebulon snapped from behind her. "You just need to move your butt and let me see him."
Before she could respond or move, Zebulon pushed her aside and ripped Arik's shirt open.
Geary cringed at the ragged wound the knife had left behind. "Don't hurt him."
Zebulon curled his lip at her. "Do you think I came all the way over here to hurt him? If I'd wanted him hurt, I'd have left him to Twiddle Dumb and Dumber." Turning back to Arik, Zebulon hovered his hand about an inch over the wound, and as he moved it back and forth the wound knitted itself closed.
Geary stared, dumbfounded, as shock poured through her.
Of course the wound healed itself. Sure. That made perfect sense, didn't it? Arik had left her alone at the café and a weird Scottishesque guy had led her to a battle with two men who'd been in her dreams, who could leap higher than the bionic kangaroo on steroids, and another scary dude who could heal gaping wounds with his hand.
It all made sense.
If you were on massive quantities of illegal drugs.
"Okay, I'm dreaming. Hallucinating. Brought on by stress. I had a hard day today and this is my mind trying to protect itself from… from stuff. Lots of stuff."
The three men were frowning at her, which only served to set off her temper.
"Oh, like I'm any less sane than the three of you just because I talk to myself."
Trieg cleared his throat. "I'm thinking you should wipe her memory, ZT. Do that Were-Hunter thing so that she goes back to normal and forgets all about us."
Zebulon scoffed. "I'm Chthonian, Trieg. We don't do that."
Grimacing at the response, Trieg rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm thinking you should start."
Geary took a step back and pointed with both index fingers over her right shoulder. "And I'm thinking I should take myself home." She pointed her finger at the men, winked, and made a small clicking noise by sucking her breath between her teeth. "You guys have a great night… with whatever it is you people do. See you later." She turned and took a step away, then swung back to face them. "On second thought, no offense, I never want to see any of you again. Good night."
With a quick word of thanks to ZT, Arik pushed himself up from the ground and ran after Megeara. Just as she left the alley he caught up with her and pulled her to a stop.
"Geary," she snapped.
"Geary," he said, hoping to placate her as he rubbed her arm in case he might have harmed her any by stopping her. "Please. I didn't want you to see any of that."
"See what?" she asked with a bit of hysteria in her voice, "I didn't see anything. There were no scary people there. Nothing freaky." She patted him on the biceps, then smiled as if nothing were wrong. "I'm going home now and tomorrow I'm going to have the doctors check for a brain tumor. Full battery of tests. Whole nine yards. Whatever's wrong with me, we'll find it and deal with it. At this point, my vote is either tumor or space alien testing. Either one works for me."
"You don't have a tumor and there aren't any aliens running around here. You're not insane."
"No?" Her face was aghast. "Then what am I?" She held her hands up before he could answer. "No, wait. The better question is what are you?"
Arik wasn't sure how to answer. But then there was no use keeping anything from her, since she'd already seen so much. It was time for complete honesty. "Do you know what an Oneroi is?"
The sarcasm in her voice was so deep it could drown a champion swimmer. "A Greek god of sleep. I did actually have to study this stuff before they allowed me a doctorate, you know?"
"I know," he said calmly. "Oneroi are gods of sleep." He spoke slowly, enunciating each word carefully. "You know me, Geary. You've known me for a long time…"
She let out a nervous laugh and he could see the clarity in her eyes as she looked up at him. "So what are you saying? You're an Oneroi?"
He nodded slowly.
Geary laughed. Hard. Until she realized that he wasn't joining her laughter.
She froze as a chill went over her. "You're a god, huh? Then tell me something only a god would know."
He didn't even hesitate with his answer. "The first night I met you in your dreams, you were bathing in a river of chocolate. Your entire body was coated with it and you were cupping your hands under the waterfall, then drinking the chocolate. I came up behind you and kissed your neck, then gave you a goblet that we both drank out of. You filled the cup, then poured the chocolate over me and licked—"
She placed her hand over his mouth to stop him from speaking. "You were there."
"I was there."
Disbelief poured through her. It couldn't be. It just wasn't logical. "What about Vanderbilt?"
"You dream about that at times. Reliving the horror of it. I snooped a bit."
Geary dropped her hand as memory after memory of her making love to the dream Arik played through her mind. Now to find out that it was real…
It pissed her off. "Snooped a bit? No, buddy, you've snooped a lot." Geary was mortified as various memories went through her mind. "I didn't know you were real. No. You can't be real. This is crap. It's all crap. You're lying to me."
"It's real, Geary." He took her hand into his and held it against his chest so that she could feel his beating heart. "I'm real."
She looked down at where he'd been stabbed. There was no blood. No tear in his clothes where she'd seen his wound with her own eyes.
But there was still blood on her hands.
He looked just as he had when he'd picked her up at her flat. Just as he'd looked when he had left her at the table and vanished.
Her gaze drifted over his shoulder to where Trieg was watching them from the shadows.
She pulled her hand away from Arik and gestured toward Trieg. "And he's just plain odd." She turned away from Arik and instantly walked into Zebulon again. Okay, it bothered her that he could just appear like that out of the blue, without warning, but she'd had enough. "And what is your problem that you keep putting yourself in my way?"
He answered with a sadistic laugh, "She's feisty, Skotos. I can see the appeal."
Arik snorted. "Oh, you've no idea."
When she tried to move past him, Zebulon stopped her. "Not to be rude, but what the hell? I live for it. You can't start running your mouth about what you've seen here tonight."
Oh, that was priceless. "Great threat you've got going there, big ZT. News flash, I didn't want to see anything. You people dragged me into this against my will, not the other way around, and who am I going to tell anyway? The last thing I want is to be dragged off and committed because I saw… something that no rational human being has ever seen before."
Zebulon gave her a cocky grin that conveyed both amusement and irritation. "I don't think you understand what's going on here, do you?"
"Not a clue and, no offense, I like it that way. Clueless rules."
Still the beast wouldn't let her pass. Zebulon inclined his head toward Arik. "The Skotos has risked his life to come here to be with you, Geary. Those two who attacked him. They're assassins and I'm sure they're going to be back. Probably with reinforcements. And now that you've seen them, they'll come for you, too, which is the only reason why I'm still talking to you. I feel morally obligated to at least warn you that they're gunning for you. Now in theory I can kill them and save you, but then that just opens up a whole can of worms and gets so messy that I really can't. I'm better off letting you die than taking them out. See my dilemma?"
She gave a bitter laugh. "Not really. The only dilemma I see is my imminent death that you appear ambivalent to. Hello? Did you hear any of what you just said to me?" How could this be happening?
"I heard, but when you get to my age, you understand that some things are just best left alone. Death is only natural."
"Oh yeah," she said, sweeping his body with a derogatory glare, "you're an old man. You're all of what? Twenty-five?"
He was definitely amused as he responded. "More like twenty-five thousand years old. Give or take a few hundred years. At my age we really don't count anymore."
Geary swallowed at that deep, dry tone. "You are joking, aren't you?"
He shook his head.
She looked at Arik, who duplicated the gesture. Nervous and suddenly uncertain, she looked back at Zebulon. "You're twenty-five thousand years old?"
"Well, if you're looking for precision, twenty-seven thousand, five hundred, and forty-two, but really does it matter?"
Geary felt her jaw drop. There was no way he could be that old. "That would put you at having been born during the Aurignacian Period."
"Not quite; that predates me by a few hundred years. But I'm close to it."
She could barely comprehend what he was saying as she ran through her ancient, ancient history. "And that would make you—"
"A Cro-Mag," he said with a smirk, "so yeah, when you call me a barbaric caveman, I am. Literally. Hell, I even knew a couple of Neanderthals who once kicked my ass all over what is now Toledo, Spain. But here's the fun part. Your boyfriend over there is even older than I am and he's considered a baby by his family."
And given the ludicrousness of those statements, the most screwed-up thought of all went through her head. "You were both around during the time of Atlantis."
That was how Arik had known about her necklace. How he'd known about the site.
Oh God, it was true.
She couldn't even complete the thought. She couldn't.
Trieg moved forward to touch her sympathetically on the shoulder. "It's a bit of a stunner when you first hear about it. You should have seen my face the night I met Artemis. A bit of advice to you, love. Go with it. And on that note I need to be patrolling. Good night to you all."
Yeah, sure, let the man with flashing fangs go back to his life. Why not? She had nothing better to do than be stalked by the deadly duo who wanted her dead.
And Mr. Freakzoid Neanderthal Cro-Mag man.
Speaking of the devil, Zebulon was watching her with an amused smirk that she dearly wanted to wipe off his face.
Arik was the only one who seemed to appreciate the seriousness of all this.
Zebulon turned his attention to Arik. "So, bud, how long do I have to watch for the Dolophoni?"
Arik let out a tired breath before he answered. "I'll be gone from this world in two weeks… if they don't kill me first."
Zebulon nodded. "You honestly think they're going to let you go home?"
Her anger was mirrored in Arik's eyes. "Not really. I figure I'm basically dead one way or another."
"Good," Zebulon said drily. "You're not as stupid as I thought you were. My only advice is for you to keep them off my streets and out of the public's eye. I don't like cleaning up these kinds of messes."
Arik looked even less amused than she felt. "I'm not exactly the Tidy Bowl man myself."
"Then we have an understanding. Keep the riffraff off my turf or I mop the floor with all of you."
"I'll do my best."
Zebulon inclined his head before he literally melted into nothing.
Geary was torn between outrage, hurt, and fear. Part of her wanted to slap Arik for dragging her into this while another wanted to run as far away as she could. What won out was her sarcasm. "Thanks so much for the date. Had a blast. Really, we must do this again sometime. I really like these near-death experiences we have whenever we're together. They're very invigorating."
He reached to touch her again. "Geary—"
"Don't touch me," she snapped as she pulled away from him. "Don't you dare."
Arik withdrew his hand reluctantly. He understood her anger and she was fully entitled to it. Funny how he hadn't considered how all this would affect her before he'd come here. Honestly, he hadn't cared.
But now it was different. Now he cared in ways he hadn't been able to imagine before.
And he'd only been with her for a short time. What would it be like after they'd spent more time together?
What had he been thinking when he made his bargain with Hades? How could he have offered her up so easily?
It was such a selfish thing to do, and now that he could feel, he understood exactly how selfish it was. And he regretted it with every part of himself. She deserved so much better than what he'd done to her.
She deserved so much better than him. What he'd done was wrong. He knew that now, but he couldn't change it.
Geary shook her head. "I just don't understand this. You lied to me about who you were. Why?"
Arik swallowed as he heard the pain in her voice. It was so intense that he felt it himself. "Why? What would you have said had I come to you and told you that I was a god from your sleep who wanted to meet you in the flesh? Would you have welcomed me in or would you have called the authorities on me?"
"It is ludicrous," she admitted.
"Yes," he said, trying to make her understand why he needed to be near her. "You can't imagine the world I was born into, Geary. There's no laughter there, no joy or happiness, and then one night I accidentally found you. You who laugh at the warmth of the sun when it touches your skin. You who have… what was it you called it once? A choco-gasm from eating a Hershey's Kiss—whatever that is. You feel things on a level most people never imagine. In all the centuries I've lived, I've never known anyone like you. And for two weeks I just wanted to be with you. To feel you, human to human, and to understand this world that is so vivid through your eyes."
Geary didn't know what to think. No one had ever spoken so passionately to her, never mind been so passionate about her. What should she say to that?
"I just wanted to know what it was like to be human, Megeara. Just for a little while. To touch you as a man and to hear the real sound of your voice as you said my name, and not the voice that was distorted by your dreams." He reached for her hesitantly and took her hand into his. "You can't imagine how good this feels when you've never known a gentle touch on your flesh."
Something inside her melted at the sincerity of his tone. The sincerity in those pale blue eyes. He meant every word he spoke. "So you're not dying?"
He shook his head. "Not in the sense that you use the word, no. But I will have to go back to my world and most likely die there. Apparently coming here pissed off some serious people who have no intention of letting me live after this."
"Then why did you come here if you knew they were going to kill you for it?"
"Honestly, I didn't know that at the time, but even if I had, I doubt it would have changed my mind. I would still have come for you."
How could he say that and mean it? How could seeing her be worth his life? "You're insane, aren't you?"
"Only when it comes to you."
Geary closed her eyes as she let everything that had happened over the last few minutes sink in. It was awful. She felt as if something had turned her inside out. She no longer knew what to believe in. She no longer knew what was real and what wasn't.
Instinctively she reached for the necklace—she needed to feel something solid to help ground her. But the instant she touched it, her heart stopped as their earlier discussion went through her mind. "You know where Atlantis is." It was a statement.
Disbelief washed through her as every part of his presence in her world hit her. "Then my father was right. It did exist. Right here. Right where he said it was."
Again Arik nodded to confirm her words. "You were swimming over its harbor this afternoon when you found the box. You were right there, Geary. You really touched it."
Tears actually came to her eyes at the thought of her completing her task. Of her holding in her hand one of the keys to her promise. "Was I really?"
"Yes. You were right, Megeara. And so was your father."
She covered her mouth with her hand as she took a step back. It was one thing to suspect but an entirely different one to know.
"Then we're there," she said with a giddy laugh. "We've found it."
But Arik didn't mirror her joy. He was tense and serious as he eyed her with warning. "That's the good news for you. The question is do you want to know the bad?"
Not really. She'd rather savor the good stuff. At least for a second or two. But there was no use in delaying the inevitable. As the old nursery fable went, one could never outrun trouble. There was no place far enough to avoid it. "Oh sure, what could be worse than what happened here tonight?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Does the fact that the goddess Artemis blew up your boat today top that or not?"
Geary blinked as those words sank in. Honestly, in all her wild imaginings, that one had somehow eluded her. She much preferred the thought of Arik as an arms dealer or assassin.
"Excuse me?" she asked, hoping he might have been playing with her.
"You heard me correctly. Artemis is one of many who want you to stay away from Atlantis."
"And what did I do to earn this privilege?"
"Basically the same thing you did tonight," a deep male voice said from behind her. "You were meddling in a place you didn't belong."
Geary turned at the foreign voice, then stiffened at the sight of the rest of the people who'd attacked Arik in her dream.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 4; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ