"So what’s it like to be in someone else’s dreams?"
"It’s like bathing in Jell-O. It feels kind of thick and at times can be overwhelming. You never know what you’re going to find. Many of the Skoti I know prefer nightmares, since they get such an adrenaline rush from it."
That didn’t sound like what she’d read about the Oneroi. "From my research, it says that you guys channel and direct the dreams, that you cause them."
"At one time we did. The Oneroi were extremely active in granting dreams and using them to manipulate
both the gods and humanity. Then one day one of my brethren made the mistake of making Zeus crave a goat… sexually. He did it as a joke, thinking it would be funny and that the head god needed to be brought down a peg or two after insulting him. Zeus, once he came to his senses, was so outraged that he had our insistent friends, the Dolophoni, round us up and bring us to him. A small group, including the one responsible, was killed. Another group was heavily punished, and the rest of us were cursed to have no emotions of any kind."
"Without ambition, envy, humor, and the rest of the emotional gamut, Zeus thought that it would keep us from messing with him or any of the other gods ever again."
Geary could understand his reasoning, but it seemed a bit cruel to punish everyone over the actions of one stupid being. "And it worked?"
"Not exactly. Without us there to direct dreams and inspire people, certain humans and other creatures began to lose their minds. Zeus learned that we were needed to help channel pent-up feelings and to help humans and other beings determine what they desired in a contained environment. Dreams provide a necessary outlet for everyone. So the Oneroi were charged with helping others in their dreams. It worked for a time, until we realized that in a dream state we had emotions again. Fear, love, passion… they were all there, and whenever we found a special class of person they were extremely amplified. But once we leave the dreamworld, the borrowed emotions evaporate and leave us vacant and cold again."
She could see where this was headed. "So some of you became addicted to emotions. Like a drug."
He nodded. "Those who crave it are called Skoti."
Geary remembered Zebulon calling Arik Skotos. "You say that like it’s a bad thing."
"In my world it is. Skoti are deemed uncontrollable, and if they fail to heed the warnings of the Oneroi they’re hunted down and severely punished or killed."
She frowned. "Why?"
"The gods fear us and therefore they want to control us any way they can."
"But if you have no feelings, how can punishment matter?"
"Because that is the one emotion left to us."
"No," she corrected him. "Physical pain isn’t an emotion. It’s a biological response to negative stimulus.
No wonder you still have it."
"You know, the rational explanation really doesn’t help. Either way, it sucks to be one of us."
"Sorry." Geary reached up to brush a lock of hair from his forehead. It was inconceivable that he was here with her and real. That he was flesh and blood and for all intents and purposes human. How strange.
She didn’t know if she should be angry or flattered or both that he’d come here just to meet her.
She tightened her grip on his hand. "And what about Solin? Is he really related to you?"
"Yes. He’s my cousin, but we dream gods consider ourselves brothers and sisters whether or not we share parents. Solin’s father was Phobetor and his mother was human. He didn’t know he was a demigod until he hit puberty and his powers manifested. Then his mother cast him out and the Oneroi began to hunt for him. He’s hated all of us ever since."
Now she was beginning to understand. "Which is why he said initially that he didn’t have a brother."
Geary fell silent as she digested that last bit. God, this was all so complicated. Unbelievable, really. How did a woman who only wanted to redeem her family name find herself in a situation like this? "So where does this leave us?"
She laughed. "You have no idea."
"True, I didn’t understand confusion until I found myself floating in deep water."
She let out a small laugh at his reminder of how they’d met. "Since you’re being so honest now, how did you happen to get there?"
"Hades. After he made me human, he threw me out and put me in your path. I guess I should be grateful he didn’t dump me on a busy street somewhere, under a truck."
Geary shook her head at his humor. "Hades." Bitter amusement filled her. "And to think I used to mock my father for his belief that the ancient gods were real. I thought he was insane and I told him that on many an occasion. But he was always insistent that they had to have lived." She sighed as she remembered the way he’d described them and the quirks he’d invented for the pantheon. "So what is old Hades like anyway?"
"He’s a cranky bastard who hates everyone not Persephone."
Well, that made sense. She was his wife after all. "So what’s she like?"
Arik’s features softened. "She’s kind and dainty. Petite and shy. Very unassuming. She actually reminds me a lot of your cousin Tory."
"Yes, and Thia is a dead ringer for Artemis, right down to the red hair, height, selfishness, and bitchy attitude."
For some reason, that didn’t really surprise Geary. "No kidding, huh? What about me? Am I like any of the gods?"
He narrowed his eyes as if considering it before he answered. "Athena, except she has black hair and is usually sporting her pet owl on her shoulder. But your mannerisms are very similar, and like you, she lives a life of celibacy."
"Oh gee, thank you for that one."
He lifted her hand up to kiss the back of her knuckles. In spite of her anger, the gesture warmed her.
"It’s true, but that’s okay. I like that about you."
"I’m sure you don’t."
He cupped her face in his hands and stared at her. "Megeara, there is absolutely nothing about you that I don’t like."
"Can you honestly say that?"
He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "Okay, I don’t like it when you walk away from me, but other than that…"
She laughed. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You transcend a dimension to come here and I brush you off. I can see where that might get annoying."
Arik smiled at her playful tone. All in all, she was taking this a lot better than he’d have thought. "You still want to find Atlantis?"
Her face sobered. "Not if it means anyone’s life. I won’t make that bargain. Believe me, there’s nothing there worth my life and definitely nothing there worth someone else’s."
A twinge of guilt went through him as he realized that he’d made that bargain without hesitation.
"Is something wrong?" she asked with a scowl.
"No," he lied. "I was only amazed by the woman in front of me. By your compassion and caring."
She gave him a doubting stare, but for once she didn’t argue. Instead she changed the subject. "Tell me something, Arik. Was Atlantis beautiful?"
"Like a dream."
She closed her eyes as if she was trying to imagine it.
He leaned forward to whisper in her ear. When he spoke, his lips brushed the soft skin of her cheek, which only whetted his appetite for her. "Tonight while you sleep, I’ll take you there and let you see it for yourself."
Joy glowed in her eyes. "Really?"
"Cross my heart."
Geary felt tears prick at the back of her eyes at the thought of seeing it. But more than that was the fear of what else might be waiting for them in her dreams. "Will those assassins be in our dreams, too?"
He looked away before he answered. "Probably. But don’t worry about them. I can handle it in that realm. And if I can’t you can always change the channel again. I have to say that was the neatest trick I’ve ever seen." He winked at her.
She blushed at the memory. Shaking her head, she reached up to lay her hand against the whiskers of his cheek. It was so odd to be with him knowing all the things they’d shared. "So how many women have you visited in their dreams?"
He hesitated. "Is this one of those questions that if I don’t answer it correctly, you get angry at me?"
She laughed. "Probably."
Scowling, he hesitated before he answered. "If it makes you feel any better, you’re the only one I’ve ever wanted to be human for."
Ironically, that was just what she needed to hear. "You are a fool, Arikos."
"Only where you’re concerned."
She still couldn’t believe that he’d come here for her. Who would have made such a bargain? "So what do we do now?"
"Well, if I can’t have you nak*d in my arms, then I vote we stay alive."
That sounded good to her… both parts, actually. "All right. But I want to make sure we don’t endanger anyone else. Do you think Solin will help us?"
"That’s a hard question to answer. Solin is a bit self-absorbed and highly unpredictable. Although I have to say that it surprised me he rescued the others earlier, so there might be a chance he’d help us, too."
"Okay, then. Let’s try him and see what he thinks."
But an hour later, after they’d gone to Solin’s villa and explained it all to him, Geary learned that Arik had been right. The egotistical bastard had no intention of helping them.
Dressed in a pair of slacks with an open light blue shirt that showed off his tanned six-pack, he scoffed at them before he took a drink of the brandy in his hand. "They’ll come for me if I help you, and no offense, no one has ever bled for me, so I’m not about to bleed for anyone else. You can all go to hell for what I care." Then he slammed his empty glass down and glared at Arik. "I’ve done enough helping.
You’ve already brought Zebulon down on my ass and now the Dolophoni. It took me centuries to reach an impasse with them and I like our cold war a little too much to jeopardize it for you."
"Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things to take care of." He left them alone in his study.
Geary let out a sigh as she turned to face Arik, who sat beside her on the leather sofa. "He’s a fuzzy-little-bunny guy, isn’t he?"
To her surprise, Arik defended him. "Don’t judge him too harshly. You have to remember that for centuries he was persecuted by humanity and hunted by us. His resentment and anger are more than understandable."
"Is that compassion you feel?"
Arik paused as he considered the tenderness inside him. "Yeah, I think it is."
"How does it feel?"
"Strange and comforting, but mostly disturbing." And it was. He wasn’t sure if he liked having emotions or not. There were extreme advantages and disadvantages to both.
Megeara reached over to squeeze his hand. "So what’s it like to live without them?"
He toyed with her fragile fingers, delighting in the sensation of her hand in his. "It’s hard. Imagine a world without taste. A world where you can see the colors and all, but you can’t feel it. A beautiful clear day can never choke you up. A child’s laughter doesn’t make you smile. You don’t look at a bunny and think, How cute . You feel absolutely nothing. It’s like being wrapped in thick cotton all the time."
"And when someone touches you?"
"I can feel the pressure, but not the sensations. There’s no blood rushing through my veins, making my heart beat faster. No excitement or chills. But the weird part is that when I’m with you, I don’t even have to touch you to feel that. I get hard for you just thinking about you."
Geary swallowed as she felt her own chills rise. No one had ever said a kinder thing to her. And as she contemplated that, she realized something else… "You’ve never slept with anyone in the flesh, have you?"
Amazed, she remembered the expertise he possessed. In bed, he was highly creative.
His blue eyes were haunting in their need and sincerity as he brushed his lips against her cheek, then whispered in her ear, "There’s nothing I want more than to touch you, Megeara. I want to taste your skin on my tongue. To know what it’s like to slide into you while you hold me close."
Her br**sts tightened as warm heat seared her. She should be offended by his frankness. She wasn’t. It oddly turned her on. No one had ever been so blatant and open with her before.
And he had crossed worlds to be with her.
His breath scorched her neck as he nuzzled her cheek with his.
He would be gone in two weeks. There was no hope of anything with him more than a brief physical relationship. That was the last thing she wanted. "Arik? What are the odds of your surviving this?"
His expression turned dark as he pulled back to look at her. "Hard to say. As a human, pretty much nil, but once Hades returns my godhead, my chances go up exponentially."
"So you just came here to screw me and leave?"
Arik paused. Yeah, that had basically been his plan, which Hades had changed by demanding her life for it.