"Geary," she snapped.
"Geary," he said, hoping to placate her as he rubbed her arm in case he might have harmed her any by stopping her. "Please. I didn’t want you to see any of that."
"See what?" she asked with a bit of hysteria in her voice, "I didn’t see anything. There were no scary people there. Nothing freaky." She patted him on the biceps, then smiled as if nothing were wrong. "I’m going home now and tomorrow I’m going to have the doctors check for a brain tumor. Full battery of tests. Whole nine yards. Whatever’s wrong with me, we’ll find it and deal with it. At this point, my vote is either tumor or space alien testing. Either one works for me."
"You don’t have a tumor and there aren’t any aliens running around here. You’re not insane."
"No?" Her face was aghast. "Then what am I?" She held her hands up before he could answer. "No, wait. The better question is what are you ?"
Arik wasn’t sure how to answer. But then there was no use keeping anything from her, since she’d already seen so much. It was time for complete honesty. "Do you know what an Oneroi is?"
The sarcasm in her voice was so deep it could drown a champion swimmer. "A Greek god of sleep. I did actually have to study this stuff before they allowed me a doctorate, you know?"
"I know," he said calmly. "Oneroi are gods of sleep." He spoke slowly, enunciating each word carefully.
"You know me, Geary. You’ve known me for a long time…"
She let out a nervous laugh and he could see the clarity in her eyes as she looked up at him. "So what are you saying? You’re an Oneroi?"
He nodded slowly.
Geary laughed. Hard. Until she realized that he wasn’t joining her laughter.
She froze as a chill went over her. "You’re a god, huh? Then tell me something only a god would know."
He didn’t even hesitate with his answer. "The first night I met you in your dreams, you were bathing in a river of chocolate. Your entire body was coated with it and you were cupping your hands under the waterfall, then drinking the chocolate. I came up behind you and kissed your neck, then gave you a goblet that we both drank out of. You filled the cup, then poured the chocolate over me and licked-"
She placed her hand over his mouth to stop him from speaking. "You were there."
"I was there."
Disbelief poured through her. It couldn’t be. It just wasn’t logical. "What about Vanderbilt?"
"You dream about that at times. Reliving the horror of it. I snooped a bit."
Geary dropped her hand as memory after memory of her making love to the dream Arik played through her mind. Now to find out that it was real…
It pissed her off. "Snooped a bit? No, buddy, you’ve snooped a lot." Geary was mortified as various memories went through her mind. "I didn’t know you were real. No. You can’t be real. This is crap. It’s all crap. You’re lying to me."
"It’s real, Geary." He took her hand into his and held it against his chest so that she could feel his beating heart. " I’m real."
She looked down at where he’d been stabbed. There was no blood. No tear in his clothes where she’d seen his wound with her own eyes.
But there was still blood on her hands.
He looked just as he had when he’d picked her up at her flat. Just as he’d looked when he had left her at the table and vanished.
Her gaze drifted over his shoulder to where Trieg was watching them from the shadows.
She pulled her hand away from Arik and gestured toward Trieg. "And he’s just plain odd." She turned away from Arik and instantly walked into Zebulon again. Okay, it bothered her that he could just appear like that out of the blue, without warning, but she’d had enough. "And what is your problem that you keep putting yourself in my way?"
He answered with a sadistic laugh, "She’s feisty, Skotos. I can see the appeal."
Arik snorted. "Oh, you’ve no idea."
When she tried to move past him, Zebulon stopped her. "Not to be rude, but what the hell? I live for it.
You can’t start running your mouth about what you’ve seen here tonight."
Oh, that was priceless. "Great threat you’ve got going there, big ZT. News flash, I didn’t want to see anything. You people dragged me into this against my will, not the other way around, and who am I going to tell anyway? The last thing I want is to be dragged off and committed because I saw… something that no rational human being has ever seen before."
Zebulon gave her a cocky grin that conveyed both amusement and irritation. "I don’t think you understand what’s going on here, do you?"
"Not a clue and, no offense, I like it that way. Clueless rules."
Still the beast wouldn’t let her pass. Zebulon inclined his head toward Arik. "The Skotos has risked his life to come here to be with you, Geary. Those two who attacked him. They’re assassins and I’m sure they’re going to be back. Probably with reinforcements. And now that you’ve seen them, they’ll come for you, too, which is the only reason why I’m still talking to you. I feel morally obligated to at least warn you that they’re gunning for you. Now in theory I can kill them and save you, but then that just opens up a whole can of worms and gets so messy that I really can’t. I’m better off letting you die than taking them out. See my dilemma?"
She gave a bitter laugh. "Not really. The only dilemma I see is my imminent death that you appear ambivalent to. Hello? Did you hear any of what you just said to me?" How could this be happening?
"I heard, but when you get to my age, you understand that some things are just best left alone. Death is only natural."
"Oh yeah," she said, sweeping his body with a derogatory glare, "you’re an old man. You’re all of what?
He was definitely amused as he responded. "More like twenty-five thousand years old. Give or take a few hundred years. At my age we really don’t count anymore."
Geary swallowed at that deep, dry tone. "You are joking, aren’t you?"
He shook his head.
She looked at Arik, who duplicated the gesture. Nervous and suddenly uncertain, she looked back at Zebulon. "You’re twenty-five thousand years old?"
"Well, if you’re looking for precision, twenty-seven thousand, five hundred, and forty-two, but really does it matter?"
Geary felt her jaw drop. There was no way he could be that old. "That would put you at having been born during the Aurignacian Period."
"Not quite; that predates me by a few hundred years. But I’m close to it."
She could barely comprehend what he was saying as she ran through her ancient, ancient history. "And that would make you-"
"A Cro-Mag," he said with a smirk, "so yeah, when you call me a barbaric caveman, I am. Literally.
Hell, I even knew a couple of Neanderthals who once kicked my ass all over what is now Toledo, Spain.
But here’s the fun part. Your boyfriend over there is even older than I am and he’s considered a baby by his family."
And given the ludicrousness of those statements, the most screwed-up thought of all went through her head. "You were both around during the time of Atlantis."
That was how Arik had known about her necklace. How he’d known about the site.
Oh God, it was true.
She couldn’t even complete the thought. She couldn’t.
Trieg moved forward to touch her sympathetically on the shoulder. "It’s a bit of a stunner when you first hear about it. You should have seen my face the night I met Artemis. A bit of advice to you, love. Go with it. And on that note I need to be patrolling. Good night to you all."
Yeah, sure, let the man with flashing fangs go back to his life. Why not? She had nothing better to do than be stalked by the deadly duo who wanted her dead.
And Mr. Freakzoid Neanderthal Cro-Mag man.
Speaking of the devil, Zebulon was watching her with an amused smirk that she dearly wanted to wipe off his face.
Arik was the only one who seemed to appreciate the seriousness of all this .
Zebulon turned his attention to Arik. "So, bud, how long do I have to watch for the Dolophoni?"
Arik let out a tired breath before he answered. "I’ll be gone from this world in two weeks… if they don’t kill me first."
Zebulon nodded. "You honestly think they’re going to let you go home?"
Her anger was mirrored in Arik’s eyes. "Not really. I figure I’m basically dead one way or another."
"Good," Zebulon said drily. "You’re not as stupid as I thought you were. My only advice is for you to keep them off my streets and out of the public’s eye. I don’t like cleaning up these kinds of messes."
Arik looked even less amused than she felt. "I’m not exactly the Tidy Bowl man myself."
"Then we have an understanding. Keep the riffraff off my turf or I mop the floor with all of you."
"I’ll do my best."
Zebulon inclined his head before he literally melted into nothing.
Geary was torn between outrage, hurt, and fear. Part of her wanted to slap Arik for dragging her into this while another wanted to run as far away as she could. What won out was her sarcasm. "Thanks so much for the date. Had a blast. Really, we must do this again sometime. I really like these near-death experiences we have whenever we’re together. They’re very invigorating."
He reached to touch her again. "Geary-"
"Don’t touch me," she snapped as she pulled away from him. "Don’t you dare."
Arik withdrew his hand reluctantly. He understood her anger and she was fully entitled to it. Funny how he hadn’t considered how all this would affect her before he’d come here. Honestly, he hadn’t cared.
But now it was different. Now he cared in ways he hadn’t been able to imagine before.
And he’d only been with her for a short time. What would it be like after they’d spent more time together?
What had he been thinking when he made his bargain with Hades? How could he have offered her up so easily?
It was such a selfish thing to do, and now that he could feel, he understood exactly how selfish it was.
And he regretted it with every part of himself. She deserved so much better than what he’d done to her.
She deserved so much better than him. What he’d done was wrong. He knew that now, but he couldn’t change it.
Geary shook her head. "I just don’t understand this. You lied to me about who you were. Why?"
Arik swallowed as he heard the pain in her voice. It was so intense that he felt it himself. "Why? What would you have said had I come to you and told you that I was a god from your sleep who wanted to meet you in the flesh? Would you have welcomed me in or would you have called the authorities on me?"
"It is ludicrous," she admitted.
"Yes," he said, trying to make her understand why he needed to be near her. "You can’t imagine the world I was born into, Geary. There’s no laughter there, no joy or happiness, and then one night I accidentally found you. You who laugh at the warmth of the sun when it touches your skin. You who have… what was it you called it once? A choco-gasm from eating a Hershey’s Kiss-whatever that is.
You feel things on a level most people never imagine. In all the centuries I’ve lived, I’ve never known anyone like you. And for two weeks I just wanted to be with you. To feel you, human to human, and to understand this world that is so vivid through your eyes."
Geary didn’t know what to think. No one had ever spoken so passionately to her, never mind been so passionate about her. What should she say to that?
"I just wanted to know what it was like to be human, Megeara. Just for a little while. To touch you as a man and to hear the real sound of your voice as you said my name, and not the voice that was distorted
by your dreams." He reached for her hesitantly and took her hand into his. "You can’t imagine how good this feels when you’ve never known a gentle touch on your flesh."
Something inside her melted at the sincerity of his tone. The sincerity in those pale blue eyes. He meant every word he spoke. "So you’re not dying?"
He shook his head. "Not in the sense that you use the word, no. But I will have to go back to my world and most likely die there. Apparently coming here pissed off some serious people who have no intention of letting me live after this."
"Then why did you come here if you knew they were going to kill you for it?"
"Honestly, I didn’t know that at the time, but even if I had, I doubt it would have changed my mind. I would still have come for you."
How could he say that and mean it? How could seeing her be worth his life? "You’re insane, aren’t you?"
"Only when it comes to you."
Geary closed her eyes as she let everything that had happened over the last few minutes sink in. It was awful. She felt as if something had turned her inside out. She no longer knew what to believe in. She no longer knew what was real and what wasn’t.
Instinctively she reached for the necklace-she needed to feel something solid to help ground her. But the instant she touched it, her heart stopped as their earlier discussion went through her mind. "You know where Atlantis is." It was a statement.