Arik was fascinated by the bristled texture of the blanket on Teddy’s bed. It was scratchy and irritating. Why would anyone want that next to their skin? Even the pillowcase wasn’t what he’d thought it’d be. In dreams, these items were as soft as air and they slid against his skin like warm water.
But here… he shivered.
This was a strange world mankind lived in. No wonder they lived to escape into dreams.
And he was tired of being here without Megeara. She was proving to be even more elusive in person than she’d been before. He didn’t know where she was, but it was time he found her.
He’d just reached for the door when it swung open so fast he felt the rush of air against his skin.
A warm, sweet emotion went through him as he saw Megeara. At least it started out that way until he noted the look of anger on her face.
“What?” he asked, wondering why she was so vexed now.
“Solin Catranides is an only child.”
Arik laughed at the ludicrousness of that statement. As a Dream-Hunter, Solin had thousands of siblings. Literally. “I assure you, he is not.”
She gestured to the man behind her. “Tell him, Brian.”
“I called a friend who knows him. She assured me that Solin has never mentioned a family of any sort.”
Arik gave them a sardonic smile. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mention our family to a woman when it’s none of her business. Get him on the phone for me.”
Geary glared at him over the commanding tone of voice he used. One thing she knew about Brian, he didn’t take that tone any better than she did.
Brian’s eyes flickered with contempt. “I’ve already made my inquiries.”
“And they were wrong.”
Brian tossed the phone at him. “You make your own calls, buddy.”
“I don’t know the number.”
“Then you’re screwed.”
“Brian,” Geary said in a gentle tone, trying to diffuse their prickliness. She took the phone from Arik and returned it to Brian. “Can you get Solin’s number for me? I want to speak to him myself.”
He curled his lip at Arik. “It’s his brother. Shouldn’t he know the number?”
“Brian, please. He could call any number in Greece and the person who answers it could be anyone pretending to be Solin. I want to make sure that I’m speaking to the right person.”
His features softened as he saw the sanity of her request. “Fine.” He took the phone and dialed it. After a few minutes, he pulled a pen and paper from his pocket to jot down the number. He hung up and handed it to her.
“You’re sure this is right?”
“It’s the only Solin Catranides I know of. Whether or not it’s his brother remains to be seen.”
“Okay.” She dialed the number and waited while Arik passed a smug look at both of them.
After the sixth ring, a man with a deep British voice answered in Greek.
Geary kept her eyes Arik who was watching her back with a blank expression on his handsome face. “Is this Solin Catranides?”
“No. Kyrios Catranides isn’t available at the moment. If you would like to leave your name and number, I will add your message to the others.”
Could he have possibly said that in a snottier tone? Really, the man should teach haughty butler school”” advance studies. “This is a bit of an emergency-”
” They always say that, thespeneice. No offense. The master has no desire to be disturbed this afternoon by anyone.”
She narrowed her eyes on Arik, waiting for him to slip and show her if he were lying or not. “Not even for his brother?”
“I beg your pardon?” The snottiness was vacant now, replaced by incredulity.
“I have a man standing in front of me who claims to be his brother.”
Now his tone was completely flat. “The master has no brother, thespeneice.”
Before she could respond, Arik pulled the phone from her hand and spoke something in a language she didn’t know. It sounded as if it were Greek based, but it was something else entirely.
Arik passed a smug look to Brian, then to Megeara. He was getting tired of her mistrust”” not the he didn’t deserve it. It was merely causing him aggravation”” an interesting emotion that. He didn’t like it. It was too… aggravating. “He’s coming to the phone now.”
Two seconds later, Solin answered in a peeved tone of voice. “Is this a joke?” he asked in the language that only the gods knew.
Arik answered in kind. “No, Solin, it’s not. I need your help.”
“If you are what you claim, and since you’re using my native tongue I have no doubt that you are a relative, you don’t need my help.”
“Yes, I do. I’m trapped on the human plane for two weeks without my powers and I need your assistance until I can go home again.”
“Don’t you dare deny me,” he said, clenching his teeth. “Because of you I turned Skoti. You fail to help me now and I can promise you that you’ll never again sleep in peace. I’ll spend the rest of eternity synched only to you. Every time you close your eyes, I’ll be there… beating the shit out of you.”
“My, that’s some threat you’ve got going.”
“No threats. Only promises.”
Solin paused before he spoke again. “For the record, I don’t take such promises lightly.”
“And I don’t give them lightly. If you doubt me or my skills, ask M’Ordant who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve come a long way from the numbed Oneroi you turned. I want your help, Solin. I know helping someone goes against your grain, but suck it up and assist me.”
There was a few seconds of silence as if Solin were thinking. “If you’re here, I assume you have the backing of a god. Who is it?”
There was no need to hide that from him. If he really wanted to know, it wouldn’t take him long to find out. “Hades.”
Solin snorted. “You bargained with Hades? Are you insane?”
“I was definitely sane and in control while I was Oneroi. Then someone changed that. What I am now is anyone’s guess, even my own.”
More silence greeted him.
“All right,” Solin said at last. “I don’t make this a habit, but you’ve made me curious. What do you need from me?”
“I need permits for an American archaeologist to excavate Atlantis.”
Solin burst out laughing. “I know you’re insane now. Have they really found the site?”
“Does it matter?”
“On this plane of existence, yes. You start poking there and you’ll piss off people best left alone.”
“Since the human’s days are numbered, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. Let her have a bit of a thrill before she dies. What’s the harm?”
Solin sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth. “No, you didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” Arik asked.
“Promise a soul exchange with Hades. You do have nerve, I’ll grant you that.”
He wasn’t sure if impressing his brother was a good thing or not, but at least Solin sounded a little more agreeable.
“Aside from the permits, what else?”
“That’s it. She wants to meet the official who grants them to make sure they’re not forgeries.”
“How soon do you need this?”
“How soon can you do it?”
Another brief pause. “Give me an hour to arrange it. I have a few government friends who owe me. I just have to decide who I want to intimidate or blackmail.”
Arik looked at Megeara and spoke in English. “He needs an hour to set the permits up. Can you meet him then?”
Her jaw slackened before she nodded.
“She can be there,” he told Solin.
“Good. I’ll pick you up.”
“Because I have to meet the god who’s this arrogant and foolish face to face.”
Arik wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted. Perhaps he should be a little of both. “Then I’ll allow the good doctor to give you your directions.” He handed the phone to Megeara who was still gaping.
Geary couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Was it really that simple? Could nothing more than a phone call gain her the elusive papers she needed? “Hello? Kyrios Catranides?”
“Yes, and you are?”
“Dr. Geary Kafieri.”
“Nice meeting you, doctor. As my brother said, I’ll be needing directions on where to pick the two of you up so that we can procure your permits.”
Geary still was a bit reserved. It wasn’t in her nature to trust people and especially not after all the years she’d been trying to accomplish what they two of them seemed to be able to do in one hour. “I thought you were an only child.”
Solin didn’t hesitate with his answer. “Yes and no. I have a number of half siblings. One of which happens to be Arikos. Now if you’ll be so kind as to give me your address.”
She did even though she kept expecting this to be a joke.
“Very good,” Solin said once she finished giving him the address and directions for the marina. “I shall see the two of you in about an hour.”
He hung up.
Geary ended the call, then handed the phone to Brian. “He’s getting us the permits. Do you think he can really do that?”
Brian shrugged. “If anyone can, he can. Solin travels in the highest of circles. Even those I can’t ascend to… which tells you exactly how much money he has.”
She 1`to Arik whose face was completely stoic. “And he’s your brother?”
She frowned at him. “Then care to tell me why the brother of such a man was floating in the sea?”
“It was grave misfortune, I assure you.”
Brian cleared his throat. “Well, if you get those permits, I’ll reconsider my backing.”
That meant a lot to her. Without his backing, they wouldn’t have any choice except to pack up and go home. “Thank you, Brian.”
He inclined his head to her before he left them alone.
Arik offered her a seductive smile. “Are you happy now?”
“I don’t know if happy is the right word. I’m still suspicious of you and your motives.”
He clucked his tongue at her. “After all this, how can you continue to mistrust me?”
Was he serious? “Can you blame me? I still don’t know you and here you are making grand gestures for no reason. Why would you be willing to help me?”
“Because I find you fascinating. You were so passionate in grad school, and now you’re on an impossible quest, just as I am. One has to admire that. Not to mention the small fact that you saved my life. Helping you with the permits is the least I can do.” There was something in his eyes as he spoke that glinted and glowed. She felt like a snake with its master charmer who was luring it from its basket to the highway for it to be run over by a mack truck.
“What do you want from me? Really?” she asked.
“Just a simple smile. Nothing more.”
“I find it hard to believe something so small would satisfy you.”
His grin turned wickedly warm. “It would at least tide me over for a bit.”
Geary wasn’t sure what to make of him. On the one hand, he was helping her out in a way no one else could. He didn’t owe her anything at all and yet…
“Okay, Arik. I’m sorry I’ve been a little irritable to you. I just don’t trust people as a rule, especially those I don’t know.”
“I understand and we did meet under extremely odd circumstances.”
A tiny smile spread across her face as she remembered hauling him on board. “True.”
His features softened to the most seductive look she’d ever seen from any man. “Shall we start over?” He held his hand out toward her. “I’m Arik Catranides.”
She shook his hand. “Geary Kafieri and I still want to know how you ended up in the sea.”
He lifted her hand to his lips so that he could place a whisper of a kiss to her knuckles. “And I promise you that one day you will learn the answer to that.”
She wasn’t sure why, but the hairs on the back of her neck lifted as an eerie chill went down her spine. It was followed by the memory of her dreams where Arikos had bathed her in chocolate whip cream that he’d licked off her body slow and easily. But this wasn’t that man who’d seduced her.
Was it? Could it be that somehow her subconscious had held onto his memory all these years and it was only now that she needed him that she’d remembered him?
It didn’t seem feasible. Yet how else could she explain his presence here on the boat and the fact that he’d been in her dreams these past weeks. She must have remembered him.
And now that she was more relaxed, there was something about him very calm and peaceful. Something that soothed her.
Except for his eyes. They spooked her. They seemed somehow omniscient and powerful. Probing and deadly.
“So where exactly do you live?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her. It was what her dream lover had done a thousand times.
She stiffened in his embrace. “Who are you, Arik? Why are you really here?”
He rubbed his cheek against hers so that his whiskers sent chills over her. “You want Atlantis, yes?” He all but purred that into her ear as desire burned through her.
“Then what else matters?”
The heat in her body for one thing. It was unlike any she’d ever experienced before. All her life, she’d been forced to prove herself to others. And since her father’s reputation had so impugned her own, she’d gone out of her way to not allow the fact she was a woman make the more elitist scholars disregard her. She’d focused her entire life on being a serious scientist to the exclusion of all else.
But with Arik, it was different. He treated her as a woman and he wasn’t repelled by her protective barbs. He saw her as desirable. The novelty of that alone was titillating.
She wanted to close her eyes and lean back into him. To reach up and lay her palm against his whiskers so that she could feel the muscles of his jaw work. It was what she’d do in her dreams.
But this was reality and Dr. Geary Kafieri didn’t have time for such play. Even though all she wanted to do was stay where she was, she pulled away. “I need to work.”
Arik ground his teeth in frustration. But then it was the power of her that had lured him to her in the first place. I want you to stay…
The thought had no sooner gone through his head than she turned on him with a vicious glare. “And I told you I have things to do.”
He frowned at the anger in her tone. “Excuse me?”
“You said you wanted me to stay and I can’t do that.”
He cocked his head. “No, I didn’t.” He’d only thought it.
“I heard you loud and clear.”
“But I didn’t speak.” How could she have heard him when he didn’t have his powers?
She duplicated his scowl. “What are you?”
He pulled her hand to his chest so that she could feel his very human heart beating. “I’m flesh and blood. Same as you.”
Geary didn’t know what to think. Something wasn’t right about this. She could sense it. She needed to get away from him until she could sort through this.
Without so much as a goodbye, she left him and headed topside so that she could get a breath of fresh air and clear her thoughts.