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DREAD FEAR WHIPPED THROUGH GEARY AS SHE SAW THE doom in the eyes of the ones confronting them. "I'm really getting tired of these guys."
Arik made a rude noise in the back of his throat. "Believe me, I share your sentiment entirely."
That didn't really comfort her. "So what do you suggest we do?"
Arik shrugged with a nonchalance she couldn't even begin to fathom. "There are nine of them and two of us. They have the powers of a god and we're human." He gave her a very Sean Connery/James Bond mysterious kind of smile. "Therefore, I suggest we run. Fast."
Before she could even think to respond, Arik shoved her in the opposite direction of the mean army of darkness that was out to shorten their lives. Geary's heart was pounding as he took her hand and led her through the alley and down the cobbled street at a pace that would make a sprinter proud.
She had a moment when she thought it might work, but that hope died quickly as one of the women appeared out of nowhere in front of them to block their way.
The goddess tsked at Arik. "What's the matter, Skotos? We bathed and everything. Surely you don't want to leave us without at least saying hi."
"Hi." Then without hesitating, Arik let go of Geary and kicked the goddess away.
Spinning about, the goddess countered with a staggering blow to his solar plexus. Arik grimaced, then backhanded her so hard, she stumbled back.
Geary grabbed at something on the woman's waist that looked like a billy club attached to her belt. She jerked it free before she struck the goddess with it across the back. A blinding light sparked on said contact and was followed by a vibrant burst of power so strong, it knocked them both apart.
"You okay?" Arik asked.
All Geary could do was nod.
He kissed her on the cheek before he took the club and turned to face the others.
Rattled by the surge that continued to burn through her body, Geary stumbled away while he moved to engage the twins again.
That deeply hypnotic female voice whispered through her mind. It was the same one that had been calling to her for weeks now. But she didn't have time for it. Geary shook her head to clear it.
"Listen to me, Megeara. Use the medallion you wear. Place it under your tongue and let me into you."
"What?" she breathed.
"Just do it, child, and I will take care of them for you. Trust me. I can protect you."
Yeah, she was gone, seriously gone, and yet even as the thought went through her, what harm would there be in trying it? She and Arik were already getting their butts kicked. What harm could it do?
After all, they were fighting a band of gods out to kill them and, given all she'd seen in the last few minutes, what was a few more leaps of faith?
"I can't believe I'm doing this." She pulled the small coin up and placed it in her mouth, under her tongue. She grimaced at the salty metallic taste. But that only lasted a nanosecond as something warm invaded her mouth. Whatever it was, it didn't stop there. It spread through her like lava, heating her body and making her heart race.
And as it went through her, images filled her mind. Images of an ancient world. Of a hall filled with gold. She saw the face of a beautiful blond woman who had mercurial eyes that swirled like a silver mist.
Words whispered through Geary in a language she'd never heard before.
Then something snapped. Geary felt as if she'd been pushed outside of her body so that she was nothing more than a ghost, looking down on the others—yet she was still in her body. Only someone else was in complete control of her. It was the strangest sensation. To be cognizant and not responsive. No matter what she tried, her body ignored her instructions.
One of the gods came up to attack her. She laughed at the warm power cascading through her before she headed toward the man to confront him. He swung at her. She ducked like a seasoned pro and elbowed him in the knee. Hissing painfully, he dipped as his knee gave way.
She rose quickly, then swung her arm so that she caught him under his chin with her fist. That blow sent him twisting, straight to the ground.
Deimos approached her next. She wasn't sure how she knew that it was him, but she did.
He backed up. "Aekyra Apollymi?"
Are you Apollymi?
Even though his question had been asked in Atlantean, she knew it and, better still, answered it even against her will. "Naiea."
He took another step away from her. As he did so, her hands heated up even more. She threw them out and a blast emanated from her fingertips that flooded the alley with light.
Two seconds later, the gods went flying as if she'd struck them all with lightning.
Arik raised his hand to shield his face as he felt the heat of an Atlantean god bolt. But what stunned him more than the fact that he felt the impact of something that hadn't existed for over eleven thousand years was that it had come from Megeara.
"Apollymi!" Deimos snarled in Atlantean. "This is not your fight. Back down."
"Naiea, Olygaia eta."—Yes, it is, Olympian. The voice was Megeara's and at the same time she spoke the Atlantean words like a native. "Anekico ler aracnia."
Victory to the spider. It was an old Atlantean saying that meant "patience wins the day."
"Ki mi ypomonitikosi teloson semerie."
And today my patience ends. Even though her teeth were clenched, her voice was loud, clear, and angry as she snarled the words in a tone he could tell reached all the way to the halls of Olympus.
More important, it was enough to convince the Dolophoni that they didn't want even a tiny piece of the Destroyer when she was in this mood. Deimos looked to the others before he called for a retreat.
They vanished instantly.
Arik wiped the blood from his lips as he made his way cautiously to Megeara's side. Even though he lacked his powers, he could feel Apollymi's essence as it filled Megeara's body. Her eyes were swirling in color and dotted with silver. Rage and vengeance bled from every part of her.
She started after the others, but he pulled her to a stop before she could pursue them and possibly hurt Megeara in the process.
"Ochia, Apollymi. Anekico ler aracnia epitrepedio. Efto ler kariti u topyra."
No, Apollymi. Let the victory go to the spider. This is not the time or place.
She hissed at him and would have attacked had he not pulled the necklace from Megeara's lips. The abruptness of it caused her to collapse against him. He lifted her in his arms and held her there while the goddess was forced to retreat out of Megeara's body. He held her close as she trembled.
Geary could barely breathe as a foreign weakness invaded every part of her. She'd been so strong before; now she was as weak as a newborn. Leaning her head against Arik's neck, she was grateful for his support, because at the moment she couldn't even lift her own arms.
"What was that?" she asked weakly.
"The Atlantean goddess Apollymi. Even though she's trapped in Kalosis, she can reach out and at times possess people and the elements. Her powers are a pittance on this plane to what they would be if she were free, but they're still impressive."
"Why did she do that? Why possess me?"
"Because she needs you to free her and if they kill you, she has no hope."
"I don't understand."
"You must have pure Atlantean blood in your ancestry. I think that's why you can hear her when most can't. It's the only thing that makes sense… Before it was destroyed, there were two races who inhabited Atlantis. The natives who were born of the Atlantean pantheon and the Apollites who took refuge there after they were thrown out of Greece. Apollymi needs the blood of an Atlantean to break her seal and to summon her out. Because of that, she would protect you for all she's worth."
Geary had to straggle to raise her hand to her necklace so that she could see the writing on it. "I thought this was only a coin."
"No. That is the medallion that was worn by her priestesses. Whenever they were in danger, they would do as you did, place it in their mouths, and she would protect them."
Wow, hell of an insurance policy. There weren't many people who could have a goddess at their beck and call. Made Geary wonder what Apollymi would do for a false alarm.
Then again, given how easily Apollymi had fought the Dolophoni off, Geary didn't want to even think about it. With that kind of power, Apollymi could easily turn on the person who wrongfully summoned her.
"Why didn't our attackers just pull it out of my mouth once I started fighting them?"
"They're from the Greek pantheon. I doubt they knew that trick or I'm sure they would have." He slid her slowly down his body until she was on her feet.
It took Geary a full second before she was able to stand again. And even then, her legs were so unsteady that she held on to Arik's arm for support. The warm smell and strength of him steadied her even more, and she was grateful for his presence. "How is it you know the trick?"
He gave her a devilish grin. "The benefits of being an ex-Oneroi. Since we can trip through anyone's dreams, we know a lot of tricks the other gods don't."
"But not how to fight those guys in human form," she reminded him.
He looked a bit sheepish, which she found intriguing and endearing. "Well, not and win. But in my own body and in my realm… I'm lethal."
Geary could feel the muscles of his biceps working under her hand as she stared up into those clear eyes. In her dreams, she'd kissed that mouth a thousand times. Had run her tongue over the stubble of his chin and had licked every inch of him. It amazed her that he'd been as captivated by her as she was by him. But more than that, she found it almost impossible to believe.
"Did you really come here for me?"
He nodded, his eyes scorching her with their heat. "Yes."
"And are you disappointed?"
One corner of his mouth lifted into a seductive smile. "Only that you don't rip off my clothes and have your way with me… in chocolate."
Geary shook her head at him as she went over everything she'd discovered in the last twenty-four hours. She should be horrified and on one level she was. But on another she was actually relieved that he was a god on the human plane. At least now she understood part of what had been happening to her.
Though it didn't make it better, the explanation went a long way in saving her sanity.
She took a step back from him as she tried to comprehend everything. "I don't really get all of this. How did you first find me in my dreams?"
He took her hand in his and held it while he explained. "We have rooms that are like chambers where I live. We don't have to use them, but they make connecting with humans a bit easier—they can amplify our powers, and it gives us someplace to rest undisturbed while we're doing it. The only drawback is that it allows the powers-that-be an easier way to monitor us while we're at it. Whenever we're in the strobilos, we hover about and drift in and out of dreams. Whenever we find someone who is having a vivid dream we're drawn to them."
"And you were drawn to mine."
Incredible. She couldn't imagine being able to do that. To spy on people and participate in their sleep. "So what's it like to be in someone else's dreams?"
"It's like bathing in Jell-O. It feels kind of thick and at times can be overwhelming. You never know what you're going to find. Many of the Skoti I know prefer nightmares, since they get such an adrenaline rush from it."
That didn't sound like what she'd read about the Oneroi. "From my research, it says that you guys channel and direct the dreams, that you cause them."
"At one time we did. The Oneroi were extremely active in granting dreams and using them to manipulate both the gods and humanity. Then one day one of my brethren made the mistake of making Zeus crave a goat… sexually. He did it as a joke, thinking it would be funny and that the head god needed to be brought down a peg or two after insulting him. Zeus, once he came to his senses, was so outraged that he had our insistent friends, the Dolophoni, round us up and bring us to him. A small group, including the one responsible, was killed. Another group was heavily punished, and the rest of us were cursed to have no emotions of any kind."
"Without ambition, envy, humor, and the rest of the emotional gamut, Zeus thought that it would keep us from messing with him or any of the other gods ever again."
Geary could understand his reasoning, but it seemed a bit cruel to punish everyone over the actions of one stupid being. "And it worked?"
"Not exactly. Without us there to direct dreams and inspire people, certain humans and other creatures began to lose their minds. Zeus learned that we were needed to help channel pent-up feelings and to help humans and other beings determine what they desired in a contained environment. Dreams provide a necessary outlet for everyone. So the Oneroi were charged with helping others in their dreams. It worked for a time, until we realized that in a dream state we had emotions again. Fear, love, passion… they were all there, and whenever we found a special class of person they were extremely amplified. But once we leave the dreamworld, the borrowed emotions evaporate and leave us vacant and cold again."
She could see where this was headed. "So some of you became addicted to emotions. Like a drug."
He nodded. "Those who crave it are called Skoti."
Geary remembered Zebulon calling Arik Skotos. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
"In my world it is. Skoti are deemed uncontrollable, and if they fail to heed the warnings of the Oneroi they're hunted down and severely punished or killed."
She frowned. "Why?"
"The gods fear us and therefore they want to control us any way they can."
"But if you have no feelings, how can punishment matter?"
"Because that is the one emotion left to us."
"No," she corrected him. "Physical pain isn't an emotion. It's a biological response to negative stimulus. No wonder you still have it."
"You know, the rational explanation really doesn't help. Either way, it sucks to be one of us."
"Sorry." Geary reached up to brush a lock of hair from his forehead. It was inconceivable that he was here with her and real. That he was flesh and blood and for all intents and purposes human. How strange.
She didn't know if she should be angry or flattered or both that he'd come here just to meet her.
She tightened her grip on his hand. "And what about Solin? Is he really related to you?"
"Yes. He's my cousin, but we dream gods consider ourselves brothers and sisters whether or not we share parents. Solin's father was Phobetor and his mother was human. He didn't know he was a demigod until he hit puberty and his powers manifested. Then his mother cast him out and the Oneroi began to hunt for him. He's hated all of us ever since."
Now she was beginning to understand. "Which is why he said initially that he didn't have a brother."
Geary fell silent as she digested that last bit. God, this was all so complicated. Unbelievable, really. How did a woman who only wanted to redeem her family name find herself in a situation like this? "So where does this leave us?"
She laughed. "You have no idea."
"True, I didn't understand confusion until I found myself floating in deep water."
She let out a small laugh at his reminder of how they'd met. "Since you're being so honest now, how did you happen to get there?"
"Hades. After he made me human, he threw me out and put me in your path. I guess I should be grateful he didn't dump me on a busy street somewhere, under a truck."
Geary shook her head at his humor. "Hades." Bitter amusement filled her. "And to think I used to mock my father for his belief that the ancient gods were real. I thought he was insane and I told him that on many an occasion. But he was always insistent that they had to have lived." She sighed as she remembered the way he'd described them and the quirks he'd invented for the pantheon. "So what is old Hades like anyway?"
"He's a cranky bastard who hates everyone not Persephone."
Well, that made sense. She was his wife after all. "So what's she like?"
Arik's features softened. "She's kind and dainty. Petite and shy. Very unassuming. She actually reminds me a lot of your cousin Tory."
"Yes, and Thia is a dead ringer for Artemis, right down to the red hair, height, selfishness, and bitchy attitude."
For some reason, that didn't really surprise Geary. "No kidding, huh? What about me? Am I like any of the gods?"
He narrowed his eyes as if considering it before he answered. "Athena, except she has black hair and is usually sporting her pet owl on her shoulder. But your mannerisms are very similar, and like you, she lives a life of celibacy."
"Oh gee, thank you for that one."
He lifted her hand up to kiss the back of her knuckles. In spite of her anger, the gesture warmed her. "It's true, but that's okay. I like that about you."
"I'm sure you don't."
He cupped her face in his hands and stared at her. "Megeara, there is absolutely nothing about you that I don't like."
"Can you honestly say that?"
He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "Okay, I don't like it when you walk away from me, but other than that…"
She laughed. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You transcend a dimension to come here and I brush you off. I can see where that might get annoying."
Arik smiled at her playful tone. All in all, she was taking this a lot better than he'd have thought. "You still want to find Atlantis?"
Her face sobered. "Not if it means anyone's life. I won't make that bargain. Believe me, there's nothing there worth my life and definitely nothing there worth someone else's."
A twinge of guilt went through him as he realized that he'd made that bargain without hesitation.
"Is something wrong?" she asked with a scowl.
"No," he lied. "I was only amazed by the woman in front of me. By your compassion and caring."
She gave him a doubting stare, but for once she didn't argue. Instead she changed the subject. "Tell me something, Arik. Was Atlantis beautiful?"
"Like a dream."
She closed her eyes as if she was trying to imagine it.
He leaned forward to whisper in her ear. When he spoke, his lips brushed the soft skin of her cheek, which only whetted his appetite for her. "Tonight while you sleep, I'll take you there and let you see it for yourself."
Joy glowed in her eyes. "Really?"
"Cross my heart."
Geary felt tears prick at the back of her eyes at the thought of seeing it. But more than that was the fear of what else might be waiting for them in her dreams. "Will those assassins be in our dreams, too?"
He looked away before he answered. "Probably. But don't worry about them. I can handle it in that realm. And if I can't you can always change the channel again. I have to say that was the neatest trick I've ever seen." He winked at her.
She blushed at the memory. Shaking her head, she reached up to lay her hand against the whiskers of his cheek. It was so odd to be with him knowing all the things they'd shared. "So how many women have you visited in their dreams?"
He hesitated. "Is this one of those questions that if I don't answer it correctly, you get angry at me?"
She laughed. "Probably."
Scowling, he hesitated before he answered. "If it makes you feel any better, you're the only one I've ever wanted to be human for."
Ironically, that was just what she needed to hear. "You are a fool, Arikos."
"Only where you're concerned."
She still couldn't believe that he'd come here for her. Who would have made such a bargain? "So what do we do now?"
"Well, if I can't have you naked in my arms, then I vote we stay alive."
That sounded good to her… both parts, actually. "All right. But I want to make sure we don't endanger anyone else. Do you think Solin will help us?"
"That's a hard question to answer. Solin is a bit self-absorbed and highly unpredictable. Although I have to say that it surprised me he rescued the others earlier, so there might be a chance he'd help us, too."
"Okay, then. Let's try him and see what he thinks."
But an hour later, after they'd gone to Solin's villa and explained it all to him, Geary learned that Arik had been right. The egotistical bastard had no intention of helping them.
Dressed in a pair of slacks with an open light blue shirt that showed off his tanned six-pack, he scoffed at them before he took a drink of the brandy in his hand. "They'll come for me if I help you, and no offense, no one has ever bled for me, so I'm not about to bleed for anyone else. You can all go to hell for what I care." Then he slammed his empty glass down and glared at Arik. "I've done enough helping. You've already brought Zebulon down on my ass and now the Dolophoni. It took me centuries to reach an impasse with them and I like our cold war a little too much to jeopardize it for you."
"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some things to take care of." He left them alone in his study.
Geary let out a sigh as she turned to face Arik, who sat beside her on the leather sofa. "He's a fuzzy-little-bunny guy, isn't he?"
To her surprise, Arik defended him. "Don't judge him too harshly. You have to remember that for centuries he was persecuted by humanity and hunted by us. His resentment and anger are more than understandable."
"Is that compassion you feel?"
Arik paused as he considered the tenderness inside him. "Yeah, I think it is."
"How does it feel?"
"Strange and comforting, but mostly disturbing." And it was. He wasn't sure if he liked having emotions or not. There were extreme advantages and disadvantages to both.
Megeara reached over to squeeze his hand. "So what's it like to live without them?"
He toyed with her fragile fingers, delighting in the sensation of her hand in his. "It's hard. Imagine a world without taste. A world where you can see the colors and all, but you can't feel it. A beautiful clear day can never choke you up. A child's laughter doesn't make you smile. You don't look at a bunny and think, How cute. You feel absolutely nothing. It's like being wrapped in thick cotton all the time."
"And when someone touches you?"
"I can feel the pressure, but not the sensations. There's no blood rushing through my veins, making my heart beat faster. No excitement or chills. But the weird part is that when I'm with you, I don't even have to touch you to feel that. I get hard for you just thinking about you."
Geary swallowed as she felt her own chills rise. No one had ever said a kinder thing to her. And as she contemplated that, she realized something else… "You've never slept with anyone in the flesh, have you?"
Amazed, she remembered the expertise he possessed. In bed, he was highly creative.
His blue eyes were haunting in their need and sincerity as he brushed his lips against her cheek, then whispered in her ear, "There's nothing I want more than to touch you, Megeara. I want to taste your skin on my tongue. To know what it's like to slide into you while you hold me close."
Her breasts tightened as warm heat seared her. She should be offended by his frankness. She wasn't. It oddly turned her on. No one had ever been so blatant and open with her before.
And he had crossed worlds to be with her.
His breath scorched her neck as he nuzzled her cheek with his.
He would be gone in two weeks. There was no hope of anything with him more than a brief physical relationship. That was the last thing she wanted. "Arik? What are the odds of your surviving this?"
His expression turned dark as he pulled back to look at her. "Hard to say. As a human, pretty much nil, but once Hades returns my godhead, my chances go up exponentially."
"So you just came here to screw me and leave?"
Arik paused. Yeah, that had basically been his plan, which Hades had changed by demanding her life for it.
I am a rank bastard.
And in that moment he had a bad epiphany. "You're right—that was my intent. I'm no better than Solin. I was so fixated on the novelty of being human with you that I never thought past my blind obsession. You gave yourself so freely in your dreams that I made the assumption you lived your life that way, too. But you don't. I think that's why you're so uninhibited in dreams. You keep everything bottled up inside you."
"Yeah," she said in a low tone. "I'm so inhibited here that it's the only place I feel free to roam without someone trying to judge me."
He nodded and for the first time ever, he felt guilt. Real, true, and bitter. More than that, he cared for her. He didn't want her hurt in any way, and he didn't know how to stop the course he'd already set into motion.
When he'd seen her there in the middle of the fighting, it had made his heart ache. He'd actually been afraid for her.
Oh, this was getting way too complicated.
"I've made such a mistake by coming here, Megeara. I'm so sorry. I should have been content to stay in your dreams." If only he'd been able to. Had he stayed there, they would have driven him out of her life completely.
Now he just wanted to stay here with her forever.
If only he could…
Geary pulled him into her arms and held him close. She didn't know what to think about any of this, but then maybe she shouldn't be thinking at all. She'd cherished those dreams with him. He was both naive and experienced. Trusting and suspicious. She'd never known anyone like him.
No kidding. He was a god turned human who lived an existence she couldn't even begin to understand.
But she wanted to.
Today he'd given her her dream by taking her to Atlantis and letting her hold a piece of it in her hands. And if they were meant to die, then she wanted to make sure he had the one thing he'd wanted most.
Rising up from the sofa, she took his hand and pulled him to his feet.
He frowned at her. "Where are we going now?"
"Somewhere that we can be alone so that I can strip you naked and ride you into the ground."
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