"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 cafe 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, ass**le. 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 cafe 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.