Both Kat and ZT froze as the girl innocently approached them.
She gave Kat a curious frown before she pushed her glasses up on her nose. "Are you all right, Kat?"
"Fine, Tory. I just have an old friend visiting, but he was about to leave."
"Oh, okay. Geary wanted me to check on you. She said you weren’t feeling well." And before Kat could say anything, Tory held her hand out to ZT. "Hi, friend of Kat. I’m Tory Kafieri."
Kat expected the god-killer to tear Tory’s hand off or make a nasty remark. Instead he took her hand in his and shook it gently. "ZT."
"ZT. What a cool name." She smiled up at him. "Well, I won’t bug you two anymore. It’s obvious you want to be alone. I’ll tell Geary that you’re fine, Kat. Nice meeting you, ZT."
"You, too, Tory."
Kat actually gaped as Tory left them and ZT didn’t blast her. She waited until Tory was gone before she spoke again. "So you can be nice. Who knew?"
"My niceness has a very low threshold and that little girl just sucked it dry, so don’t push me, Olympian.
I don’t want so much as a single Atlantean stone overturned. Guard it with your life because the next time I come here, that’s the price I’m going to demand for your incompetence."
And before she could even flinch, he vanished.
"Nice talking to you, ZT," she called out after him. "I so look forward to your visits. Next time we’ll do pastries, ‘kay?"
Sighing, Kat rubbed her temple. This was turning into a beautiful day for her. She couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.
M’ORDANT WALKED SLOWLY THROUGH THE HALL THAT led to the Onethalamos… just in case someone was watching. It was in the Onethalamos that the three leaders of the Dream-Hunters, M’Ordant, D’Alerian, and M’Adoc, gathered to make policy, keep peace, and…
Issue death warrants.
Protected from the other gods and zealously guarded, this room contained all the secrets that the three of them would kill and, more important, had killed to maintain.
One of them being the fact that the three of them were no longer bound by Zeus’s curse. Their feelings had come back, and with every year that passed those emotions grew stronger, as did these Dream-Hunters’ need to protect them. But outside the doors of the Onethalamos no one could ever know.
Inside the room, however, anything went.
The moment M’Ordant walked through the oversized gold doors, he slammed them shut with his thoughts.
M’Adoc looked up from his book with an arched brow. "Careful, adelphos . The last thing we want is for someone to know you have a temper."
"Yeah, and in about three seconds so will you."
Laying the paperback aside, M’Adoc sat back in his cushioned chair to eye M’Ordant suspiciously.
"We have a renegade."
M’Adoc laughed. "And this is different how?"
"Oh, give me a second on this one," M’Ordant said, approaching M’Adoc’s chair. "We’re not talking one of our guys went Skoti. It should be so simple. No. One of our Skoti just went human."
It took several seconds for that shocking bit to fully penetrate M’Adoc’s mind. "Excuse me?"
M’Ordant drew a ragged breath before he explained. "Arikos has cut a bargain with Hades. He wanted to be human for a few weeks. The price. One human soul."
The color faded from M’Adoc’s face an instant before rage darkened his cheeks. "What is he doing?"
"Fucking things up for the rest of us." M’Ordant slammed his fist down on the table. "I swear, Zeus as my witness, I’m going to tear him limb from limb. How could he be so f**king stupid?"
M’Adoc shook his head. "Enough with the vulgarity. I know you love the word, but save it." He growled low in his throat, letting M’Ordant know he was equally willing to break eggs, heads, and bones in this as M’Ordant was. "Zeus and the others will question how Arik could have developed a desire so strong it would make him bargain with Hades to quell it."
"Yeah, and there will be hell to pay if they come knocking on our doors. If they ever find out that the curse is weakening…" He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t have to. Unlike Arikos, he, M’Adoc, and D’Alerian were the first ones they’d rounded up at Zeus’s order and punished for the Oneroi’s ability to manipulate dreams for their own personal gain.
To this day, the three of them, who had been innocent in the crime but held up as examples to the others, could still feel the pain and humiliation of that torture. When it came to absolute punishment, no one could match a Greek god bent on vengeance. It was what kept the three up at night and seeking the Skoti to make sure they didn’t violate the laws Zeus had set for them. The three would do anything to not relive the merciless hell they’d gone through-and they were the three whom the gods would punish again if they ever learned the secrets M’Ordant, M’Adoc, and D’Alerian carried.
No one would show them mercy, and they knew it.
"Does anyone else know?" M’Adoc asked.
"Just Hades and us."
"How did you find out?"
Straightening up, M’Ordant folded his arms over his chest. "I make it my business to keep an eye on
Hades and Hypnos." They had been the two most mischievous gods who’d gotten the rest of them cursed, "When they sleep, I’m there every minute of it. I just don’t let them know I’m spying."
"Good man. We have to contain this. Call out the Dolophoni. We need that bastard dead, then if Zeus finds out we can tell him that it was an aberration unique to Arikos that we handled."
"You think he’ll buy it?"
"If not, we’ll have to find some way to sell it to him." M’Adoc’s phosphorescent blue eyes flickered with malice. "I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of bleeding for another one of these ass**les."
M’Ordant arched a brow at M’Adoc’s word choice. He generally profaned profanity-which told M’Ordant just how determined his brother was. M’Ordant held his hand out to M’Adoc. "I hear you, adelphos , and we’re in definite accord."
M’Adoc wrapped his hand around M’Ordant’s and shook it. "Arikos dies."
GEARY PAUSED IN HER CHAT WITH THIA TO WATCH ARIK bite into one of the Hostess cupcakes that Tory had broken out for the celebration. His eyes actually glowed with pleasure as he tasted it.
His smile was broad and enchanting. "This is incredible."
Tory laughed at him. "I can’t believe you’ve never had one before. Man, that would stink, to grow up without Hostess. This was the staple of my elementary-school lunch box."
He practically inhaled it. "Do you have any more?"
"Hang on." She ran from the room.
Excusing herself from Thia, Geary made her way to Arik, who was frowning at the black cake that was stuck like glue on his fingers. Geary picked up a napkin as she approached him. "It must be bare in the mountains."
He licked the sugar from his lips before he responded. "I know what things are, but I haven’t been able to experience them before. Like this cake. It’s really very good."
"As the girth of my h*ps will attest."
By his face, she could tell he didn’t understand she was calling herself fat. For some reason, she found that as endearing as his amazement that he couldn’t easily get the cake off his fingers.
Smiling, she took his hand in hers so that she could help him out. She paused at the sensation of his flesh against hers as she wiped the pads of his fingers with the napkin. He had the most beautiful hands. Large and masculine, they made her want to lick them clean. In her dreams, she would have done that in a heartbeat.
He lifted his hand so that he could place a very sweet kiss on the back of her knuckles. "Thank you."
Geary swallowed as white-hot desire shot through her. What was it about this man that made her literally melt? "You’re welcome."
Tory came running back in with her entire stash of junk food that she kept in a large shoe box that normally lived under her bed… protected by Mr. Cuddles of course. "Okay, Moon Pies."
Geary laughed in disbelief. "You’re going to share a Moon Pie? Now? You know you can’t get any more of those until you go back to the States, right?"
"It’s for a good cause. We need more addicts. Besides, there’s always Grandpa to bail me out with an emergency shipment if I get too desperate." Tory handed a chocolate-coated Moon Pie to Arik.
Geary shook her head. "Oh no, if you really want to be wicked to him, nuke it first."
Tory made a slight face of contradiction. "Yeah, but given his reaction to the cupcake, that might overload his taste buds with pleasure and kill him."
This was true. The mighty Moon Pie could be orgasmicly deadly when nuked… it rated right up there with the infamous Australian Tim Tam Slam and the deep-fried Twinkie. "Good point. To be on the safe side, the first one should always be tasted at room temperature."
Arik frowned while Tory unwrapped the small, round cookielike object. And as soon as he tasted it, he was in obvious ecstasy. "Oh my God, that’s good."
She exchanged a mischievous grin with Tory. "Reese’s," they said in unison.
"Reese’s?" Arik asked, puzzled.
"Oh yeah," Geary laughed. "You’ll be dying the minute you bite into one." She started digging through Tory’s shoe box until she found one. She made an evil noise in triumph as she pulled it out. "You know, Tor, I have no idea how you stay so skinny eating all this crap. I swear I gain ten pounds just rooting through it."
"I’m still growing."
Geary snorted. "So am I, but it’s out instead of up. Remind me tomorrow to start my diet again."
Arik scowled at her. "I think you’re beautiful as you are. Why would you want to change?"
Something warm tickled her at his words. "You’re just trying to flatter me."
"No," he said seriously. "I’m only telling you the truth."
"Awww," Tory said dreamily. "He’s such a sweetie. Can we keep him?"
Geary gave a nervous laugh. "He’s not a puppy, Tory."
"Yeah, but we did fish him out of trouble. In some cultures that would make us responsible for him forever."
Arik gave her a hopeful grin. "And I wouldn’t mind being kept for a while."
Geary shook her head at them. "You two are a terrible combination. Kind of like gasoline and fire." She looked past Arik’s shoulder to see Kat entering the room finally. She had a very sour look on her face, as if something wasn’t settling right with her. "Hey," Geary called out to Kat, catching her attention. "You okay?"
With an extremely fake smile, Kat walked over. "Yeah. Fine."
Tory set her shoe box to the side. "So where’s the gorgeous ZT?"
Geary frowned at the name she didn’t recognize. "Who?"
Tory made a clicking noise with her teeth like a woman calling a horse. "Kat was with this really cute guy on deck when you sent me up to check on her." She looked back at Kat. "Did he not stay?"
"No, he had to leave."
"ZT?" Arik asked with a speculative gleam in his eyes. "As in Zebulon?"
Kat gave a very curt nod.
Tory looked back and forth between them curiously. "You know him, too, Arik?"
"He knows him," Kat said in an odd tone. Her gaze was cutting as she met and held Arik’s. "He sends you his best."
All emotion fled from Arik’s features. "I’ll bet he does. How is old ZT doing, anyway?"
"Charming as ever."
The sarcasm between them was so thick it could have been carved into an ice sculpture.
Arik put the unopened Reese’s back inside the box as if he’d lost his appetite. "Nice to know some things never change."
Geary scowled even more. "How is it that you two have a mutual friend when you didn’t know each other before today?"
"It’s a small country," Kat said evasively. "The old families tend to stick together and Arik’s has probably known ZT’s for quite some time now."
"Yes," Arik said with a wry grin. "He’s like a rash for which there’s no cure. It only goes away for a bit before returning unexpectedly to ruin every pleasurable experience. He should have been named Herpes rather than ZT. Or maybe just Herpes Z, since he’s a very special irritant."
Kat laughed. "Very aptly put, hell, it’s even Greek and he is creepy-I’ll give you that. But I wonder if he knows how you feel?"
"I’m sure he does. He’s rather astute and I’m anything but subtle."
Okeydokey, this was getting a bit out of hand and she wanted to avoid a herpes discussion in front of
the walking/talking medical textbook who was only fifteen years old. So, trying to stave off the animosity and veer to safer territory, Geary stepped forward. "And on that happy note, children, I think we should all turn an eye to retiring. It’s been a long day and we have a really big day tomorrow."
"Hear! Hear!" Teddy concurred from the other side of the room. "As long as we’ve been waiting for this excavation, I want to make sure that we all have one that’s error free. We can’t afford a single mistake, people."