"Then why didn’t you at least tell me the medallion would burn her?"
"That I didn’t know. It doesn’t burn me and it didn’t burn you. I’ve never had a human hold one before."
Acheron’s head buzzed with guilt and grief. With hatred for both himself and her. "What happens to him now?"
"He’s a Shade. Without a body or soul, his essence is trapped in Katoteros."
Acheron roared with the pain of what she was telling him. He had just killed a man and sentenced him to a fate far worse than death.
And for what?
Gods, he was such a fool.
Better than anyone, he should have known to ask the right questions. He should have known better than to trust in the love of another person.
Damn it, when would he learn?
Artemis reached down to him and lifted his chin with her hand until he looked up at her. "Tell me, Acheron, is there anyone you will ever trust enough to release your soul?"
He shook his head. "You know better. You’ve tutored me too well on how vicious women are. On how much love ruins and destroys. Thank you for the lesson, Artemis. It was just what I needed. And I assure you, it’s one I’ll never forget."
ACHERON Present Day
You’ll never see the moments coming that will forever mutilate your life-at least not until after they’ve mowed you down.
October 21, 2008
6:30 p.m., Tuesday
Acheron teleported himself into the main room where the statue of Athena stood, covered in gold. Because of the lecture that was going to start in a few minutes in another part of the Parthenon, the statue area had been closed off.
He should probably obey the rules, but why? It was one of the few perks he had from being a god.
Casts of the original Elgin marbles stood at stations that lined the walls on both sides. Even though the interior of the Parthenon wasn’t exactly the way it’d been in ancient Greece, he’d always loved to come here. Something about it comforted him. And any time he was in Nashville, he made sure to stop in and visit.
He moved to the center of the room so that he could look up at the artist’s rendition of the goddess Athena. It looked nothing like her. Raven-haired and pale, Athena was as frail in appearance as she was striking. But those looks were definitely deceiving. As a war goddess, Athena could pack a punch as hefty as any man.
"Acheron . . ." the statue said, coming to life before him. "Tell me what it is you seek."
He rolled his eyes. "A night away from you, Artemis. It’s not like you don’t know that."
She came out of the statue to stand in front of him at her natural height. "Oh, you’re no fun."
"Yeah, right. Sorry. The statue thing lost its humor eleven thousand years ago. It hasn’t become any more appealing over time."
Crossing her arms over her chest, she pouted. "You just blow all the fun out of everything."
Ash let out a slow, impatient breath. "Suck, Artemis. The phrase is ‘suck all the fun.’ "
"Blowing, sucking. Same difference."
He scoffed as he walked past her to look at the casts against the wall. "No, it isn’t. Take it from someone with intimate knowledge of the two."
She screwed her face up at him. "I hate it when you’re crude."
Which was exactly why he did it. Unfortunately, all the crudity in the world wasn’t enough to drive her away from him. "Why are you here?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Why are you here?" She dogged his every step.
Again, he moved away from his least favorite stalker. "There’s some archaeologist who thinks she’s found Atlantis. I was curious so here I am."
Her eyes lit up. "Oh this I have to see. I love it when you go for the vernacular."
"Jugular," he corrected between clenched teeth. Too bad he didn’t have the same enthusiasm. He hated to take anyone’s credibility from them, or worse, publicly embarrass them. But the last thing he needed was for the world to find Atlantis and then expose what he’d been there. For the first time in his existence he had people who looked at him with respect and who allowed him dignity.
If they ever knew . . .
He’d rather die again. No, better a sting to the professor’s ego than to his. While he had moments of altruism, in this he didn’t. No one would ever expose him again.
Artemis blinked in happy expectation. "Where is this lecture going to be?"
"Room down the hall."
Acheron shook his head. He took a few minutes to walk around the exhibit and smile at the modern world’s interpretation of the past. How could humanity be so strangely astute and at the same time dense? Their perceptions swung from being unerringly accurate to downright ridiculous.
Then again, didn’t all creatures suffer from that same dilemma?
Soteria looked up at the docent who was watching her with a perplexed expression. Oh, please don’t tell me I was talking out loud to myself. By the woman’s face she knew the answer and hated having been caught . . . again. "Yes?"
"You’ve got a good crowd gathering. I just wanted to know if you needed some water for your presentation?"
Her gut knotted at those words. Good crowd. Yeesh. She hated crowds and public speaking. If not for the fact they needed funding for new equipment in Greece, she’d have never agreed to this. "Yes, please, but make sure it has a screw cap. I’m always spilling drinks when they don’t."
The woman turned and left. Tory looked down at the notes she was reviewing, but the woman’s words hung in her mind.
Good crowd. What an oxymoron for a woman who hated crowds. Her throat tight, she went to spy on the room.
Yeah, it was definitely a crowd. At least sixty people were there. She felt sick.
As she started to withdraw into the shadows, the door opened and in walked a man who took her breath away.
Unbelievably tall, he strode into the room as if he owned it. No, he didn’t stride, he loped in like a seductive predator. Every woman in the room turned to stare at him. You couldn’t help it. It was like he was a magnet for the eyes.
His long black hair held a streak of bright red in the front and framed a face so incredibly handsome that he’d be pretty if he didn’t have such a rugged aura. It also made her want to know exactly what his eyes looked like, but since he wore a pair of opaque black Oakley sunglasses, she couldn’t tell. Dressed in a long black distressed coat, he wore a dark gray hoodie underneath that was opened to show a Misfits T-shirt. His black pants were tucked into a pair of dark cherry red Doc Martens boots with skull and crossbone buckles going up each side.
Ignoring the women who ogled him, he shrugged a black leather backpack off his broad shoulder and set it on the floor by an aisle seat before he sat down. The leather was as worn as his coat and the backpack was marred with a white anarchy symbol and one of a sun pierced by three lightning bolts.
She didn’t know what it was about those long legs stretching out in front of him that made her heartbeat speed up, but it did. He looked so masculine sitting there like that. With his large hands covered by black fingerless gloves, he pushed the sleeves of his coat up on his forearms, then leaned back in the chair, completely at ease. She caught a glimpse of a red and black dragon tattoo on his left arm. He also had a small silver stud pierced through his right nostril, as well as a tiny silver hoop in his left ear.
He took a deep breath and hung one arm over the back of the chair. Dang, the man moved like water. Slow, graceful and yet he gave the impression that at any minute he could explode into action to take down anyone who threatened him.
Yeah . . .
It wasn’t until the third time her name was repeated that she realized the docent had returned. "I’m sorry. I was having a bit of stage fright." And a long minute of lust-filled fantasies about wrapping herself around Mr. Goth.
"Oh you’ll be fine." The woman handed her the water.
Tory wasn’t so sure. Crowds terrified her and unlike the Goth man outside, she hated to stand out. She would try picturing him in his underwear, but that was even more disturbing since all it did was make her hot and even more nervous . . .
He had to be the only man alive who could pull off intimidating in his tighty-whities.
God, what if all that massive hotness was commando?
Forcing herself to stop those thoughts, she checked her watch and saw that it was almost time to begin.
She glanced back at the crowd to see a tall, extremely voluptuous red-headed woman approach the Goth man. The woman was as beautiful as the man was gorgeous, but she didn’t look like the type who would normally associate with his. Where he was dressed in black, FU clothes, she wore an all-white suit, right down to the dainty Jimmy Choo shoes. Immaculately coifed, the woman reminded her of a runway model. And when she sat down by the Goth man, he actually grimaced at her even though she was smiling and offering him some of the drink she’d brought with her.
The woman spoke to him and he turned his head to respond with a very harsh, "Fuck off."
She looked completely stricken by his coldness. Tory clenched her teeth. It was obvious they knew each other and while the woman was enamored of the man, he couldn’t care less about her.
Typical jerk. Tory hated to judge people, but she’d seen his type over and over again in the classes she’d taught and had made the mistake of thinking herself in love with someone just like him once upon a time. Users who took advantage of the women who loved them. No doubt the redhead had bought every piece of the expensive clothes he so proudly wore.
But their relationship was none of her business. She just hoped the woman came to her senses soon and dumped the ass**le.
"I’ll go introduce you."
Tory jumped at the sound of Dr. Allen’s voice as he moved past her. Just over fifty, he was fit and trim with gray hair and a small moustache. He’d been the professor who invited her to speak about Atlantis as part of the Parthenon’s classic civilization series. Now if she could only use this as a way to help finance her next excavation, she’d kill two birds with one presentation.
Just don’t let me fall down and stutter . . .
She crossed herself three times, spit and quickly prayed.
"I know many of you are familiar with the Kafieri name and the dubiousness of Soteria’s father’s and uncle’s research and their claims. But in all fairness, Dr. Kafieri has taken her scholarship extremely seriously and I have to say that her findings have impressed me enough that I wanted to bring her here. Not to mention, being one of the few people who received a doctorate by age twenty shows exactly her level of commitment. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can flaw her theories or her dedication to the field of ancient study. Now if you’ll all help welcome Dr. Kafieri."
Ash withheld his applause as he waited to see the professor he was about to roast.
The embarrassed word wouldn’t be audible to anyone other than Artemis and him, but the stress in her voice evoked a wave of pity in him. He arched a brow as he heard papers being pushed together as if the presenter had dropped them.
An instant later, she popped out of the door behind the podium. Very tall and slender to the point of waifishness, she was pretty with plain brown hair she’d pulled back into a severe bun. A pair of small round bronze-rimmed glasses covered her deep, intriguing brown eyes. The beige box-cut suit did little to compliment her body and it was obvious she wasn’t comfortable wearing it. In fact, she looked really itchy.
She set her papers down on the podium and cleared her throat before she offered all of them a sheepishly charming grin he was sure had gotten her out of much trouble growing up. "I know we’re not supposed to open a speech with an apology, but I dropped my pages on the way out here so if you can bear with me for a moment as I realign them I’d appreciate it."
Ash hid his smile.
Dr. Allen looked perturbed, but graciously nodded. "Take your time."
And she did.
People around him were getting agitated by her delay as she tried to put the speech together again.
Dr. Allen leaned forward. "Aren’t they numbered?"
Her face turned bright red. "No. I forgot to do that."
Several people in the audience laughed while a couple more cursed.
"Sorry," she said, looking up hastily as she patted the pages together. "Really. I’m very sorry. Let me just go ahead and get started."
With one last wistful look at her abandoned speech, she clicked a photo onto the overhead projector that showed an image of the Parthenon in Greece. "Many of you know that it was my father’s and uncle’s lifelong obsession to find Atlantis-they both gave up their lives to that quest, as did my mother. And like them, I’ve made it my mission in life to solve this mystery. Since I was in diapers, my family and I’ve been excavating in Greece, trying to find Atlantis’s true location. In 1995, my cousin Dr. Megeara Kafieri found what I believe to be the correct site and though she abandoned her quest, I never did. This past summer I was finally able to find definitive proof that Atlantis is real and that Megeara’s research finally uncovered it."
Ash rolled his eyes at the claim so many had made. If he had a nickel, he’d be even richer than he already was.