You’ll never see the moments coming that will forever mutilate your lifeâ€“ at least not until after they’ve mowed you down.
October 21, 2008
6:30 PM, Tuesday
Acheron teleported himself into the main room where the statue of Athena stood, covered in gold. Because of the lecture that was going to start in a few minutes in another part of the Parthenon, the statue area had been closed off.
He should probably obey the rules, but why? It was one of the few benefits he had from being a god.
Casts of the original Elgin marbles stood at stations that lined the walls on both sides. Even though it wasn’t exactly the way it’d been in ancient Greece, he’d always loved to come here. It was strangely comforting to him. And any time he was in Nashville, he made sure to stop in and visit.
He moved to the center of the room so that he could look up at the artist’s rendition of the goddess Athena. It looked nothing like her. Raven haired and pale, Athena was as frail in appearance as she was striking. But those looks were definitely deceiving. As a war goddess, Athena could pack a punch as hefty as any man.
“Acheron…” the statue said, coming to life before him. “Tell me what it is you seek.”
He rolled his eyes. “A night away from you, Artemis. It’s not like you don’t know that.”
She came out of the statue to stand in front of him at her natural height. “Oh you’re no fun.”
“Yeah, right. Sorry. The statue thing lost it’s humor eleven thousand years ago. It hasn’t gotten more appealing over time.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she pouted. “You just blow all the fun out of everything.”
Ash let out a slow, impatient breath. “Suck, Artemis. The phrase is â€˜suck all the fun.’”
“Blowing, sucking. Same difference.”
He scoffed as he walked past her to look at the casts against the wall. “No, it isn’t. Take it from someone with intimate knowledge of the two.”
She screwed her face up at him. “I hate it when you’re crude.”
Which was exactly why he did it. Unfortunately, all the crudity in the world wasn’t enough to drive her away from him. “Why are you here?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Why are you here?” She dogged his every step.
Again, he moved away from his least favorite stalker. “There’s some archeologist who thinks she’s found Atlantis. I was curious so here I am.”
Her eyes lit up. “Oh this I have to see. I love it when you go for the vernacular.”
“Jugular,” he corrected between clenched teeth. Too bad he didn’t have the same enthusiasm. He hated to take anyone’s credibility from them, or worse, publicly embarrass them. But the last thing he needed was for the world to find Atlantis and then expose what he’d been there. For the first time in his existence he had people who looked at him with respect and who allowed him dignity.
If they ever knew…
He’d rather die again. No, better a sting to the professor’s ego than to his. While he had moments of altruism, in this he didn’t. No one would ever expose him again.
Artemis blinked in happy expectation. “Where is this lecture going to be?”
“Room down the hall.”
Acheron shook his head. He took a few minutes to walk around the exhibit and smile at the modern world’s interpretation of the past. How could humanity be so strangely astute and at the same time dense? Their perceptions swung from being unerringly accurate to downright ridiculous.
Then again, didn’t all creatures suffer from that same dilemma?
Soteria looked up at the docent who was watching her with a perplexed expression. Oh please don’t tell me I was talking out loud to myself again. By the woman’s face she knew the answer and hated having been caught… again. “Yes?”
“You’ve got a good crowd gathering. I just wanted to know if you needed some water for your presentation?”
Her gut knotted at those words. Good crowd. Yeesh. She hated crowds and public speaking. If not for the fact they needed funding for new equipment in Greece, she’d have never agreed to this. “Yes, please, but make sure it has a screw cap. I’m always spilling drinks when they don’t.”
The woman turned and left. Tory looked down at the notes she was reviewing, but the woman’s words hung in her mind.
Good crowd. What an oxymoron for a woman who hated crowds. Her throat tight, she went to spy on the room.
Yeah, it was definitely a crowd. At least sixty people were there. She felt sick.
As she started to withdraw back into the shadows, the door opened and in walked a man who took her breath away.
Unbelievably tall, he strode into the room as if he owned it. No, he didn’t stride, he loped in like a seductive predator. And every woman in the room turned to stare at him. You couldn’t help it. It was like he was a magnet for the eyes.
His long black hair held a streak of bright red in the front and framed a face so incredibly handsome that he’d be pretty if he didn’t have such a rugged aura. It also made her want to know exactly what his eyes looked like, but since he wore a pair of opaque black Oakley sunglasses, she couldn’t tell. Dressed in a long black distressed coat, he had a dark grey hoodie on underneath that was opened to show a Misfits t-shirt. His black pants were tucked into a pair of dark cherry red Doc Martens boots with skull and crossbone buckles going up each side.
Ignoring the women who ogled him, he shrugged a black leather backpack off his broad shoulder and set it down on the floor by an aisle seat before he sat down. The leather of it was as worn as his coat and the backpack was marred with a white anarchy symbol and one of a sun pierced by three lightning bolts.
She didn’t know what it was about those long legs stretching out in front of him that made her heartbeat speed up, but it did. He looked so incredibly masculine sitting there like that. With his hands covered by black fingerless gloves, he pushed the sleeves of his coat up on his forearms, then leaned back in the chair, completely at ease. She caught a glimpse of a red and black dragon tattoo on his left arm. He also had a small silver stud pierced through his right nostril, as well as a tiny silver hoop in his left ear.
He took a deep breath and hung one arm over the back of the chair. Dang, the man moved like water. Slow, graceful and yet he gave them impression that at any minute he could explode into action to take down anyone who threatened him.
It wasn’t until the third time her name was repeated that she realized the docent had returned. “I’m sorry. I was having a bit of stage fright.”
“Oh you’ll be fine.” The woman handed her the water.
Tory wasn’t so sure. Crowds terrified her and unlike the Goth man outside, she hated to stand out. She would try picturing him in his underwear, but that was even more disturbing since all it did was make her hot and even more nervous…
He had to be the only man alive who could pull off intimidating in his tidy whities.
God, what if all that massive hotness was commando?
Forcing herself to stop with those thoughts, she checked her watch and saw that it was almost time to begin.
She glanced back at the crowd to see a tall, extremely voluptuous red headed woman approach the Goth man. The woman was as beautiful as the man was gorgeous, but she didn’t look like the type who would normally associate with his. Where he was dressed in black, FU clothes, she wore an all white suit, right down to the dainty Jimmy Choo shoes. Immaculately coifed, the woman reminded her of a runway model. And when she sat down by the Goth man, he actually grimaced at her even though she was smiling and offering him some of the drink she’d brought with her.
The woman spoke to him and he turned his head to respond with a very harsh, “Fuck off.”
She looked completely stricken by his coldness. Tory clenched her teeth. It was obvious they knew each other and while the woman was enamored of the man, he couldn’t care less about her.
Typical jerk. Tory hated to judge people, but she’d seen his type over and over again in the classes she’d taught and had made the mistake of thinking herself in love with someone just like him once upon a time. Users who took advantage of the women who loved them. No doubt the redhead had bought every piece of the expensive clothes he so proudly wore.
But their relationship was none of her business. She just hoped the woman came to her senses soon and dumped the asshole.
“I’ll go introduce you.”
Tory jumped at the sound of Dr. Allen’s voice as he moved past her. Just over fifty, he was fit and trim with gray hair and a small moustache. He’d been the professor who invited her to speak about Atlantis as part of the Parthenon’s classic civilization series. Now if she could only use this as a way to help finance her next excavation, she’d kill two birds with one presentation.
Just don’t let me fall down and stutter…
She crossed herself three times, spit and quickly prayed.
“I know many of you are familiar with the Kafieri name and the dubiousness of Soteria’s father and uncle’s research and their claims. But in all fairness, Dr. Kafieri has taken her scholarship extremely seriously and I have to say that her findings have impressed me enough that I wanted to bring her here. Not to mention, being one of the few people who received a doctorate by age twenty, it shows exactly her level of commitment. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can flaw her theories or her dedication to the field of ancient study. Now if you’ll all help welcome Dr. Kafieri.”
Ash withheld his applause as he waited to see the professor he was about to roast.
The embarrassed word wouldn’t be audible to anyone other than Artemis and him, but the stress in her voice evoked a wave of pity in him. He arched a brow as he heard papers being pushed together as if the presenter had dropped them.
An instant later, she popped out of the door behind the podium. Very tall and slender to the point of waifishness, she was pretty with plain brown hair she’d pulled back into a severe bun. A pair of small round bronze rimmed glasses covered her deep, intriguing brown eyes. The beige box cut suit did little to compliment her body and it was obvious she wasn’t comfortable wearing it. In fact, she looked really itchy.
She set her papers down on the podium and cleared her throat before she offered all of them a sheepishly charming grin he was sure had gotten her out of much trouble growing up. “I know we’re not supposed to open a speech with an apology, but I dropped my pages on the way out here so if you can bear with me for a moment as I realign them I’d appreciate it.”
Ash hid his smile.
Dr. Allen looked perturbed, but graciously nodded. “Take your time.”
And she did.
People around him were getting agitated by her delay as she tried to put the speech together again.
Dr. Allen leaned forward. “Aren’t they numbered?”
Her face turned bright red. “No. I forgot to do that.”
Several people in the audience laughed while a couple more cursed.
“Sorry,” she said, looking up hastily as she patted the pages together. “Really. I’m very sorry. Let me just go ahead and get started.”
With one last wistful look at her abandoned speech, she clicked a photo onto the overhead projector that showed an image of the Parthenon in Greece. “Many of you know that it was my father and uncle’s lifelong obsession to find Atlantisâ€“ they both gave up their lives to that quest, as did my mother. And like them, I’ve made it my mission in life to solve this mystery. Since I was in diapers, my family and I’ve been excavating in Greece, trying to find Atlantis’ true location. In 1995, my cousin Dr. Megeara Kafieri found what I believe to be the correct site and though she abandoned her quest, I never did. This past summer I was finally able to find definitive proof that Atlantis is real and that Megeara’s research had finally uncovered it.”
Ash rolled his eyes at the claim so many had made. If he had a nickle, he’d be even richer than he already was.
Soteria pressed the button and switched the photo to one that made him sit up straight in his chair as he recognized it. It was the broken bust of his mother, Apollymi. And there was only one place the good doctor could have found it.
She pushed her glasses up on her nose with her knuckle. “This is one of many artifacts my team and I have brought up from the bottom of the Aegean.” She used a red laser pointer to show the Atlantean writing on the bottom that spelled his mother’s name. “I’ve been looking for someone who can translate what appears to be a form of early Greek writing. Yet no one has been able to decipher the words or even all the letters. It’s as if this alphabet has characters that are missing from the traditional Greek.”
Artemis hit him on the arm. “Looks like you’re broken, Acheron.”
“Busted,” he corrected under his breath.
“Whatever,” Artemis huffed.
Soteria looked out at the audience and then centered her attention on Dr. Allen. “Because no one can read this or even identify all the ancient letters, I’m convinced it’s Atlantean. After all, if Atlantis was in the Aegean Sea, it’s possible their language had a Greek basis or maybe it was their language that shaped what we know as Greek. The island’s location would have firmly put it in the center of where Greek sailors traded, making it a power to be reckoned with and allowing it to shape the culture, traditions and language of ancient Greece.”
She clicked to the next photo which showed a fragment of wall from the royal Atlantean palace. “This is from a building I uncovered…”
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Artemis whispered.
He couldn’t. He was too stunned as he stared at images he hadn’t seen in over eleven thousand years. How could this one young woman have found it?
How could he have not known?
Then again, that was an easy answer. Damn his mother. She would have known they were pilfering the island’s site, but rather than let him in on it, she’d be sitting back hoping one of the archaeologists released her from her captivity.
“My partner thinks it’s from a temple,” Soteria continued, “but I’m convinced it was a government building. You can see here where there’s more of the writing we saw on the bust, but again I can’t decipher it.” She flipped to another photo of underwater columns. “Now here is a sister site we found that we believe to be a Greek island which traded frequently with Atlantis. I found a piece of stone with the name Didymos etched into it.”
Ash couldn’t breathe. She’d found it. Dear gods, the woman had found Didymos…
She went to another picture that literally made him break into a cold sweat. “This is a journal we uncovered in the Didymos ruins of what appeared to be a royal palace. A bound journal,” she repeated excitedly. “I know what all of you are thinkingâ€“ they didn’t bind books at this period in time. They shouldn’t have even had paper. But again, we have the same writing and the dating on it shows it to predate anything we’ve ever found in Greece. What we have here is the Holy Grail of Atlantis. I know it with every part of me. These two sites are integral to each other and the main site is in fact Atlantis.”
“Acheron?” Artemis snapped again.
He couldn’t speak as he stared at one of Ryssa’s carefully made journalsâ€“ at her handwriting that was as clear as if it’d been written yesterday. That page documented nothing in particular, but what scared him most was what else it might contain and unlike the other writings, it was Greek. There weren’t many people in the world who could translate it. But there were enough that it could ruin his life if they did and it held something incriminating.
“Oh this is boring,” Artemis huffed. “I’m out of here.” She got up and left.
The next picture was a bust with a crushed in head. It had been one of many in Didymos that had lined the streets and it was an image of his twin brother Styxx. Ash almost came out of his seat.
It was time to stop this before she exposed him.
He forced himself to appear nonchalant even though inside he was terrified and angry. “How do you know the carbon dating on the journal isn’t contaminated?”
Tory looked up at the calm masculine voice that was so deep it commanded attention. It took her a second to realize who it belonged to.
Mr. Goth asshole.
Pushing her glasses back on the bridge of her nose in a nervous habit, she cleared her throat. “We were meticulous with it.”
He gave her a cocky grin that raised her hackles. “How meticulous? I mean let’s face it, you’re an archaeologist with an agenda who’s out to prove her father and uncle weren’t treasure-hunting crackpots. We all know how data can be corrupted. What was the time span of the journal?”
She cringed at the question. Lie, Tory, lie. But it wasn’t in her. “Well some of the initial tests showed a much younger date.”
“How much younger?”
“First century B.C.”
One finely arched brow peeked up over the rim of his black sunglasses, mocking her. “First century B.C.?”
“Still too early for a book and yet we have a book,” she said firmly, flipping back to the picture of the journal. “Hard empirical evidence that no one can argue with.”
He actually tsked at her. “No, Dr. Kafieri, what we have is an archaeologist with a preconceived agenda looking to wow us into financing another vacation for her in the Mediterranean. Isn’t that right?”
Several people in the audience laughed.
Tory felt her anger rising at his accusations. “I’m a serious scholar! And even if you discount the journal, look at the other pieces of evidence.”
He scoffed. “A woman’s bust? A building? Some pottery fragments? Greece is littered with that.”
“But the writing-”
“Just because you can’t read it doesn’t mean it can’t be read by someone else. It could be nothing more than an undocumented provincial dialect.”
“He’s right,” a man on the front row said.
A man behind the Goth dick laughed. “Her father was a lunatic.”
“Nothing compared to her uncle. Must run in the family.”
Tory gripped her pointer in her hand, wanting to hurl it at the jerk who’d started this session of ridicule. Worse, she felt the prick of tears behind her eyes. She’d never cried in public, but then she’d never been so humiliated either.
Determined to succeed, she went to the next photo and cleared her throat. “Thisâ€“”
“Is a small household statue of Artemis,” the Goth prick said in a sarcastic tone she could swear resonated throughout the entire building. “Where did you find it? A giousouroum in Athens?”
Laughter rang out.
“Thanks for wasting my time, Dr. Allen.” The older man on the front row got up and walked out.
Tory panicked at the way the crowd was turning on her. At the look of disgust on Dr. Allen’s face.
“Wait! I have more.” She went to a picture of an Atlantean necklace that held the symbol of a sun. “This is the first time we’ve seen anything so stylized.”
The Goth dick held up a komboloi that had the same exact image on it. “I picked mine up in a store at Delphi three years ago.”
Laughter rang out as the rest of the room got up and left.
Tory stood there in complete embarrassment and rage.
“Whatever committee was dumb enough to approve her dissertation should be ashamed of itself.”
Dr. Allen shook his head before he abandoned her too. Tory gripped the pages so tight in her hands that she was amazed the edges didn’t turn into diamonds.
The Goth man got up and retrieved his backpack from the floor. He loped down the stairs, over to her. “Look, I’m really sorry.”
“Fuck off,” she snarled, using the phrase he’d delivered to the other woman.
She started to leave, then stopped and reversed course before she raked him with a scathing glare that was only a pittance of the hatred she felt stinging her every molecule for this man. “You punk asshole. What was this? A game for you? This is my life’s work you just ruined and for what? Shits and giggles? Or was this nothing more than a fraternity prank? Please tell me that you didn’t just ruin my integrity to get some kind of drinking points. This is something I’ve been working for since before you were born. How dare you make a mockery of me. I hope to God that one day someone degrades you like this so that you’ll know, just once in your spoiled pompous life, what humiliation feels like.”
Ash was going to respond until he realized something.
He couldn’t hear her thoughts. Nor could he see her future. She was a complete blank slate for him.
“You better hope that I never see you walking down the street while I’m driving my car!” She whirled about and stalked off in anger.
He didn’t even know where she was going. Everything about her was a complete blank for him.
What the hell?
Not wanting to even contemplate what that might mean, Ash teleported himself from the room to his condo in New Orleans. He didn’t like not being in control or being blind to anything.
Until he figured out what was going on, retreat was the best answer.
Tory threw her pages into a garbage can on her way out the door. It wasn’t until she’d reached her car outside that she finally let her tears fall.
The laughter still rang in her ears. Her cousin Megeara had been right, she should have let Atlantis go.
But both of her parents had given their lives up to this quest. Unlike Geary, she wasn’t going to stop until she restored honor and dignity to her family name.
Well you certainly did a good job of it tonight.
She snatched the rental car door open and threw her purse inside. “You freaking, flippin, moronic, frat boy!” she shouted, wishing she’d pulled that stud out of his nose and made him eat it.
Disgusted, she pulled her phone out and started the car. She called her best friend, Pam Gardner as she left the parking lot for Centennial Park and headed for her hotel room.
“How’d it go?”
Tory wiped at the tears as she stopped at a light. “Awful! I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life.”
“You didn’t drop your pages again?”
She cringed at how well her girlfriend knew herâ€“ the two of them had been best friends since they’d met in her aunt’s deli up in New York when they’d both been small kids. “Yes, but that’s nothing compared to this.”
Tory pulled out into traffic as she snarled. “There was this… this… I can’t even think of a word strong enough to convey what he was, there, and he made them all laugh at me!”
“Oh no, Tory.” She could hear the tears in Pam’s voice for her. “Are you serious?”
“Do I sound like I’m kidding?”
“No, you sound pissed.”
And she was. God, how she wished she could find him walking back to his dorm room so that she could mow him down. “I can’t believe this night. I was supposed to be applauded and instead, I’m ruined. I swear to God in heaven if I ever see that man again, I will commit murder.”
“Well if you need help moving the body, you know where Kim and I live.”
She smiled at her friends. She could always depend on them in any crisis. Kim and Pam were living proof that while a good friend would bail you out of jail, a best friend would be in jail alongside you. “Thank you.”
“Any time, sweetie. So when are you coming back?”
“I’ll be back in New Orleans tomorrow.” And she couldn’t wait to be home again where everything was familiar.
“Well look on that bright side, Tory. Whoever the dickhead was, you’ll never have to worry about seeing him here.”
That was true. Tomorrow she’d be home and she’d never see that asshole again.