Solin snorted as he looked at Arik. "She’s priceless." He returned his cold stare to her. "Sweetie, in our world, fair’s got nothing to do with anything. He who has the greatest power wins. It’s why we’re all willing to kill each other off without flinching."
She cast a confused look at Arik before she responded. "But you helped me and Arik. Why would you do that if you really feel that way?"
Solin shrugged. "What can I say? It’s so much more enjoyable to snatch victory from the hands of the gullible. You guys make the most delightful sound of agony when you’re betrayed."
There was a part of her that wanted to think he was kidding, but another part wasn’t so sure. He sounded pretty damn sincere. She glanced at Arik, who was every bit as skeptical as she was.
"Are you in with them then?" Arik asked.
Solin gave him an exasperated smirk. "If I was, do you think I’d let you stay here?"
Arik shrugged. "I don’t know. It wouldn’t hurt you. It’s not like letting us stay here will make them hate you any more than they already do. If anything, our presence here would piss them off, which would be a bene for you. As you said, it would be a way to snatch victory from the gullible."
Solin turned completely stoic. His face, his demeanor, even his voice. "I won’t defend or explain my actions to you or anyone else. My motives are my own. Good, bad, indifferent."
Geary cocked her head as she noticed something about him while he spoke. A slight tenseness on his face. "What are you afraid of?"
Solin curled his lip at her. "I fear nothing."
"You fear intimacy, don’t you?" she asked. "With anyone. That’s why you say nothing about yourself. It’s why you prefer to traipse through dreams rather than sleep with women in the flesh."
"Thank you, Dr. Ruth." You would need a chain saw to cut through the venom and sarcasm in his voice.
"But I honestly don’t think you know even the most basic thing about me. So until you do, you should keep your opinions to yourself."
"You’re right, I don’t. But the question is, does anyone? Can you name me one single friend you have or have had in the past?"
"I don’t need friends. All they do is eat your food, drink your beer, then spew your secrets the first time you do something that displeases them. No offense, but when you have as many enemies as I do, you keep your secrets under lock and key. Isn’t that true, Arikos?"
Arik’s gaze met hers and it softened in a way that made her heart speed up. "Sometimes it pays to trust the right people."
Solin curled his lip at them. "Such rotten sentimentality, and gullible until the end-both of which will ultimately get you killed. It is, after all, how I got you converted." He paused for effect before he stepped toward Geary to address her. "You should have seen him, Megeara. He was so sure he could take me in a fight. He was getting all ready for it when I did the unexpected."
"And that was?" she asked.
"I turned my human lover loose on him. She was in a dream state and had no idea what she was really doing. Arik, being the good Oneroi he was, wouldn’t fight her. Protect the humans at all costs-that’s their credo. Unless the human is a half-breed." He spat the words as if they were bitter tasting on his tongue. "Then we deserve to die for no other crime than the fact our father went slumming with a hard-on and knocked up some bitch who couldn’t keep her legs crossed."
Solin invaded her personal space, making her take a step back as his blue eyes snapped fire at her. "So don’t talk to me about fairness. I’ve no patience for it or you, and that, little human, is all you need to know about me."
Backing away, Solin raked them both with a sneer. "Stay or go. I really don’t give a shit. But if you stay, I want you to continue your play upstairs in a bed, like civilized people." Then he turned and left them.
It took Geary a couple of minutes to recover her composure from his unwarranted rancor. "Well, isn’t he Mr. Happy Sunshine?"
Arik didn’t respond as he studied the floor.
Geary took a moment to consider everything Solin had told them, including the piece of history that explained another mystery in their relationship. "So he’s the one who turned you. I’m surprised you would even speak to him."
He took a deep breath before he answered. "Honestly, I’d rather have my brains ripped out through my nostrils, but I wanted to stay with you and without the permits you would never have allowed me near you. I had no choice except to call on him. Besides, you can’t blame him really. He has every right to hate us."
Her chest tightened at the thought of Arik’s seeking out a bitter enemy for no other reason than to be with her. It was incredibly romantic, if not somewhat stupid. "Compassion looks good on you, Arik. You should wear it more often."
He took her hand into his and toyed with her fingers. "I’m trying to, but honestly, I’d rather be wearing you." He offered her a smile that warmed her heart.
"Ooo, that was a good one."
He lifted her hand to his lips to nibble her fingers. "It’s the truth."
God, she was in love with this man… god… or whatever he was. They’d known each other such a short time and yet it seemed like forever. She’d confided everything to him, and here he was, trying to help her.
How could she let him go?
She already knew that answer. She couldn’t. He’d come to mean too much to her. And as that thought went through her, it was followed by another. There was someone who knew more about this than Tory or even Arik.
" Apollymi?" she let her mind shout, hoping that the Atlantean goddess hadn’t abandoned her.
"Is there some way to free Arik from his bargain without killing him? Can he be made mortal?"
"A god can do anything. Free me and I will grant you any wish you have."
"Do you swear it?"
"On the lives of my Charontes. You free me and you will never want for anything so long as you live."
Geary pulled Arik into her arms and held him against her. She was grateful he couldn’t hear her thoughts or her conversation with the goddess.
He felt so good in her arms… She never wanted to let him go.
Don’t make a pact with a god, her mind warned. In all her ancient readings she couldn’t recall a single time that such a bargain had worked in the favor of the person who made it.
But that was fiction and this was real. Apollymi was real and so were Arik and Solin.
Geary would allow Arik to take her back to Atlantis and then she would let Apollymi guide her. After all these centuries, the goddess would be free again.
Geary’s only hope was that Apollymi would keep her word. But even then, Geary’s doubt was strong.
What choice do I have?
She couldn’t allow him to die if she could stop it. And she was willing to make a deal with the devil to ensure Arik’s life.
THE NEXT FOUR DAYS WERE FILLED WITH ANSWERING OFFICIAL inquests about the exploding boat, dealing with the insurance company, and trying to calm down Tory, who wanted to head right back to the site and excavate even though much of their data had gone up in flames. The only ones happy about the delay were Thia, who had more time to spend with Scott and Brian, and Kichka, who was able to hunt uninterrupted for stray mice in the alley behind their flat.
And deep inside, Geary was more than fine with the delay, too, since it meant more time with Arik. He proved himself to be a tremendous help to her. He kept her completely grounded even while her temper was snapping, and he had an unnatural ability to get the Greek officials to bend to his will. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he had his god powers back.
But he was definitely still human. He just knew how to influence people to get what he wanted.
She sighed as she lay nak*d in bed with him in the late afternoon. It’d been a particularly grueling day.
Between dealing with her usual business with the salvage company and a couple of clients who didn’t want to pay for having their cargoes retrieved or their boats towed, and the insurance company that was trying to prove she’d intentionally blown up her boat to get the money out of it, she was thoroughly exhausted.
The only good thing had been the mind-blowing sex, and now Arik was rubbing her back while she lay beside him.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked. He’d been unusually quiet all day.
She turned her head to look up at him. He was completely nak*d except for the sheet that was pooled in his lap. His hair was mussed and his lips swollen, while he had a day’s worth of whiskers on his cheeks.
He was a little flushed from their play, which only made his eyes paler and bluer. "I don’t believe that.
You seem preoccupied. What’s on your mind?"
He squeezed her shoulder with a touch so expert it wrung a moan from her before he answered. "You’ve had enough stress. I don’t want to add to it."
"Oh, what the heck?" she said with a smile. "Add away. At this point, one more problem would be nothing to me."
Laughing, he kissed the shoulder he was working on before he moved down to massage her arm. "I was
just thinking how strange it is that no one has attacked us these last few days. I keep waiting for the Dolophoni to return."
She propped herself up on one arm to watch him. "Maybe Apollymi scared them off."
He took her free hand into his and massaged it between his fingers. The small circles went up her arm and made her literally melt. "I don’t know. They’re not the type to scare all that easily."
He did have a point, but honestly, she preferred the thought that Apollymi had scared them off. That meant they wouldn’t be back. "So what exactly are you thinking about their absence?"
"That they’re waiting for me to get comfortable here so that they can strike while I’m not looking."
She liked that thought even less. "Maybe you’re just being paranoid."
"Do you really think so?"
No. But she couldn’t bear to say the word out loud. It was just too hard to think about. And the other thing she didn’t want to think about bulldozed its way into her thoughts right behind it-Arik’s time here was getting shorter by the second.
Which triggered her to glance at the clock. As soon as she realized the time, she jumped up, clutching the sheet to her br**sts. "Hey, we need to get going if we’re to meet Kat on time."
Arik nodded even though he was starting to dread this meeting and he didn’t know why. He’d been the one to suggest they return to Atlantis, and yet he had a bad feeling that he couldn’t place. Something was going to go wrong. He knew it.
Perhaps he’d been human long enough to develop a degree of intuition. Or maybe he’d been attacked enough to know that the most likely place for the Dolophoni to strike next time would be underwater, where he and Megeara wouldn’t be able to escape or really fight…
It was a chilling thought.
Because of that, he kept it to himself as they showered, dressed, and then headed for their rendezvous with Kat. He didn’t want anything to taint Megeara’s happiness after the last few days she’d had.
Everyone had been chipping small pieces of her joy away, and he much preferred her smile.
This was what she’d dreamed of, and no matter what, he was going to give it to her.
Megeara was beautiful in a light summer top and jeans as she drove him out to the docks, which looked like they had a gaping hole where her old boat had been. In a weird way, he missed that boat and was sad to see it gone. He could only imagine how hard it must be for Megeara, since it was the same boat her father had used on his expeditions. She didn’t say it, but Arik could tell by the longing on her face as she looked to the empty moorings that she missed the boat, too.
For this excursion, they were going to use one of her smaller company boats-just to make sure no one knew what their intent was. It was also small enough that they could man it with just the three of them.
"Is Tory going to be here?" he asked.
Megeara parked her car in the sandy lot that was off to the side of the marina. "No. I told her I needed her to reconstruct the excavation maps that’d been destroyed. She has no idea that we’re even heading out today. She thinks we can’t move until she finishes her project."
"That was evil of you."
She gave him a shy smile. "I think we’re all a bit evil when it comes to protecting our families."
Geary turned in the seat to look at him. "You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?"
"No, not really. I mean, yes, I know the definition of family, but our families on Olympus don’t work the same way yours does and we don’t have the same attachment for each other."
"What about your mother?" Geary asked. "Surely she took care of you?"
He nodded. "True, she birthed me."
"I was handed off to attendants who tended my needs until I was old enough to be trained."
"Yeah, but didn’t one of the attendants love you?"
He frowned at her. "They were servants, Megeara, not family. There was no love, and even if there were, I was too small to remember it."