Everything happened within seconds.
One moment she was racing through her living room, the next Darius tackled her from behind. He slammed into her, propelling her facedown. They landed on top of her couch, and the impact squeezed every molecule of oxygen from her lungs. As she struggled to breathe, he flipped her over and locked her wrists above her head. A favorite position of his, obviously. She didn't have time to panic.
"My soul belongs to you, and yours belongs to me," he chanted, his voice strange, hypnotic. His gaze clashed with hers, ice-blue calculation with turquoise uncertainty. The rims of his eyes were red and swollen, but as she watched, all hint of the toxic spray vanished.
"What are you doing?" she gasped, growing increasingly light-headed.
"Bound we shall be," he continued, "from this moon to another, then set free."
Her blood whirled inside her veins as a strange, dark and oddly compelling essence invaded her. Dark, so dark. Scattered thoughts flashed through her, motionless images in black-and-white-images of a child's terror, hurt, and search for a love never found. Images of desolation and an ultimate withdrawal from emotion.
The child was Darius.
She was poised on the periphery of a vision, gazing down at a bloody massacre. Men, women and children were lying motionless in pools of their own blood. The boy-Darius-knelt over one of the children. A little girl. Long black hair formed an inky river around her face and shoulders, blending with the blood dripping from her neck. She wore a sapphire-colored dress that was bunched around her waist. Her eyes were closed, but there was a promise of beauty in every line of her softly rounded features.
Gently Darius fitted the hem of the dress around her ankles, covering her exposed flesh. He remained kneeling and gazed up to the crystal dome. He slammed a fist into the dirt and howled, the sound more animal than human, more tortured than any child should ever have to endure.
Grace wanted to sob. She found herself reaching out, hoping to wrap the boy in her arms. But even as she moved, she was whisked back to reality. Darius still hovered above her.
"What did you do to me?" she cried.
He didn't answer right away. His eyes were closed, as if he were lost in a vision of his own. When he finally opened his eyelids, he said, "I have bound us together." He looked smug. "For one day, you must remain in my presence. There will be no more escaping."
"That isn't possible."
"Isn't it? Can you not speak my language? Did I not travel here-Gracie Lacie?" he added softly.
She gasped. "How do you know that name?"
"Your father called you that."
"Yes, but how do you know?"
"I saw inside your mind," he said simply. He pushed to his feet, and she scooted backward to the edge of the couch. "Go to your room and dress," he said. "Wear something that covers you from neck to toe. We have much to discuss and not a lot of time."
"I'm not moving."
His gaze slitted. "Then I will change you myself."
With that threat ringing in her ears, Grace jumped up and scurried around him. When she reached her bedroom, she quickly shut and locked the door, then raced to the nearest window. She unlatched the fastener, raised the glass and attempted to throw one leg over.
An invisible wall stopped any movement outside.
Nearly screeching with frustration, she kicked and pounded at the wall but couldn't break past it. Finally, panting, she gave up. How dare Darius do this! she seethed. What had he said? A binding spell. How dare he cast a binding spell, locking her within his grasp.
A hard knock sounded at her door. "You have five minutes to dress, and then I am coming in."
He'd do it, too, she thought. Even if he had to kick in the door. Even if he had to take the apartment building apart brick by brick. With a humorless chuckle, she leaned against the ledge and rested her head on the wooden frame.
How had such a lost little boy grown into such an uncompromising man?
She didn't want to believe those flashes of his life were real, but he'd known her father's nickname for her. And she hadn't shared that information with anyone. Darius's childhood, those things she'd seen, had happened. She didn't like knowing he'd once had a family. She didn't like knowing about the pain he had endured at their deaths. Knowing made her long to comfort him, to protect him. To stay with him.
"I don't want to change while you're inside my house," she called. "I don't trust you."
"That matters not. You will do as I have commanded."
Or he'd do it for her , she mentally finished. Grace dragged her feet to her dresser and tore off her ripped tank. She quickly jerked on her largest, plainest turtle-neck sweater and a pair of plain gray sweatpants. He didn't want to see her skin, and she didn't want to show it to him. Glowering, she donned socks and tennis shoes-better to kick him with.
When she was completely dressed, she paused. What do I do now ? She would go out there, Grace decided, and she would be civilized. She would answer his questions honestly. Afterward, he would leave her, just as he'd found her. The boy he'd been would allow nothing less. She hoped. He'd certainly had the opportunity to hurt her: while she slept, while they kissed. A shiver of remembrance trickled through her, and she scowled. How could she still desire him?
Gathering her scattered wits, she unlocked the door and pulled it open. Darius towered a few feet away, his shoulder propped on the opposite wall. His expression was as cold and merciless as ever; his eyes could have been chipped from an Alaskan glacier.
"Much better," he said, eyeing her clothing.
"Let's go into the living room," she said. She didn't want a bed anywhere near them. Without waiting for his reply, she swept around him. She settled on the recliner-so he couldn't sit next to her-and said the first thing that popped into her mind. "Are you going to eat me?"
"What?" he half growled, half gasped. He settled onto the couch, as far away from her as possible.
Was he just as leery of her as she was of him? The thought shouldn't have bothered her, but it did. She had done nothing, by word or deed, to earn his dislike.
"Your friends," she said. "They're cannibals and wanted to eat me." She shuddered at the memory.
His lips curled in what could either have been amusement or fury. "They will never do so. That I can promise you." He schooled his features until they were as blank as a brand-new chalkboard. "Where is the medallion, Grace?"
Confession time. "I, uh, lost it."
"What?" he roared, jolting to his feet.
"I lost it?" she offered more as a question than a statement.
He sank back into his seat and rubbed a hand down his face. "Explain."
"While I was inside the mist the second time, it ripped from my neck." She shrugged. "I tried to get it back, but failed."
His gaze pierced her with its intensity. "If you are saying this in an attempt to keep the medallion for yourself, I will-"
"Search my home if you want," she interjected defensively.
He massaged his temple with two fingers and continued to stare over at her. Then he nodded as though he'd just come to a monumental decision. "We are going to take a small trip, Grace."
"I don't think so."
"We're going to the cave. We will not stay long."
Heat drained from her face and hands, leaving her cold and pale. Did he hope to send her back into Atlantis? To lock her up? To either kill/torture/molest her-okay, the last one appealed to her in a way it shouldn't have-in his own surroundings?
"Do not think to protest," he said, as if reading her thoughts. "I must go, therefore you must go. We are bound together."
"Not where I'm taking you. I wish only to visit the cave."
She relaxed, soothed by the ring of truth in his tone. Another trip to Brazil might actually be beneficial, she realized, remembering the postcard Alex had sent her. She could take his picture with her, something she hadn't had last time, and walk through town, asking people if they had seen him.
"If I go with you," she said, purposefully omitting her change of desires, "will you help me find my brother?"
"You do not know where he is?"
"No. And I've looked. His co-workers haven't seen him. He hasn't been home. He hasn't even called our mother, and he usually does. Someone sent me an e-mail supposedly from him, but I know it wasn't because I found a postcard Alex had written telling me he was in trouble."
A flash of guilt stole through Darius's eyes. "I cannot stay here long, but you have my word of honor that while I am here, I will help you find him."
"Thank you," she told him softly.
He stood and held out his hand, palm up.
"We're leaving now ?"
"But I need to call the airline. I need to-"
"You need only take my hand."
Blinking up at him in confusion, she swallowed, then forced herself to stand. "Give me just... " She rushed to her storage closet. "One... " She withdrew a photo album. "Second." She peeled Alex's picture from the slot, folded it and shoved it into her pocket. She raced back to Darius and, with a half smile, placed her hand in his. "I'm ready."
"Close your eyes." The deep baritone of his voice was hypnotic.
"Just do what I say."
"First tell me why."
He frowned. "What I'm about to do can be jolting."
"There. That wasn't so bad, was it?" She closed her eyelids, total darkness encompassing her. A full minute ticked by and nothing happened. What was going on? "Can I look now?"
"Not yet." His voice was strained, and his hand clenched around hers. "I do not have full use of my powers, so the trip is taking longer than usual."
Trip? And why didn't he have full use of his powers?
"You may look now," he said a moment later.
His dilemma forgotten, she fluttered open her eyelids and gasped. Bleak, rocky walls surrounded her. Water dripped in a constant procession, the sound ghostly. A thick, smoky mist billowed around them, cold and dreary, dusting everything it touched with chill. She was suddenly grateful for her sweatpants.
The only light came from Darius. Even through his shirt, his tattoos glowed bright enough to light a football stadium.
"How did you do that?" she asked, awed. "How did you bring us here so quickly, without walking a single step?"
"I am a child of the gods," he said, as if that explained everything. "Do not move from that spot."
Since that suited her desires perfectly, she nodded. She wasn't going near the mist.
His eyes scanning, searching, he stalked around the cavern, his muscles rippling beneath his clothes with every movement. She easily recalled how all that strength and sinew felt beneath her fingertips. Her mouth watered, and she shifted from one foot to the other. No matter what this man did, he oozed danger and excitement; it seeped from his every pore. He was far too menacing, far too unpredictable, and far too powerful. He'd promised to help her while he was with her, and she believed he would.
If anyone could find Alex, it was this man.
He tried to lift a large branch out of his way, but his hands ghosted through it. As she watched, her eyes widened. She turned toward the wall and ran her own hand over the jagged surface. Shockingly her fingers disappeared inside the rock. "We're ghosts," she croaked out, spinning to face Darius.
"Only while we are here," he assured her.
Knowing she was not a permanent phantom eased her worry, and she relaxed. She was used to new experiences. Most times she went out of her way to have them. But with Darius, things just sort of happened-weird things she could not possibly prepare for. He was excitement personified.
"Are you looking for the medallion?" she asked when he continued his search.
A long silence fell between them. Obviously he didn't want to answer.
"Well?" she persisted.
"I must find it."
What was it about that chain? Even she had fought to possess it, had felt its strange, unquestionable draw. "You want it, Alex wanted it and someone once tried to steal it from him. Other than unlocking your bedroom door, what makes that thing so valuable?"
"Dragon medallions are handcrafted by Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, and each one holds a special power for its owner, like time travel or invisibility. What's more, it unlocks doors to every room in every dragon palace-as you saw for yourself," he added dryly.
"If I'd known it offered special powers, I might have held on to it more tightly," she said. Time travel. How cool was that? "My favorite novels are time travels, and I've always thought it would be cool to visit the Middle Ages."
"If you had known of the medallion's powers, you would not have lived long enough to travel through time."
Well, that certainly put things in perspective, didn't it? "I guess that means I shouldn't ask what yours can do."
"No, you should not. You and other surface dwellers should not even know the medallions exist."
She sighed. "Alex found an ancient text, the Book of Ra-Dracus . That's how he knew about them. That's how he knew about the portal into Atlantis."
Darius's chin whipped up and he faced her; his eyes narrowed. "I have never heard of this book. What else did it say?"
"He didn't mention much, but did say the book told of ways to defeat the creatures inside. Alex gave no mention of specifics, though. I'm sorry."
"I must see that book." I must destroy it , echoed unsaid.
"Shortly after he found it," she said, lifting her arms in a helpless gesture, "someone stole it from him."
Darius rubbed his neck as he knelt before a muddy mound. "Atlanteans are dangerous beings, stronger than your people and far more deadly. Why those on the surface continually try to invade our land is beyond me. Those who do always die. Every time."
"I didn't," she reminded him softly.
His head snapped in her direction for a second time. Silence. Then, "No," he finally said, "you didn't." He continued to stare at her, and she shifted uncomfortably. His attention wavered between her mouth and her curves. If his eyes became any more heated, her clothing would be incinerated, panties and all. "Where did your brother find the book?"
"Greece. The temple of Erinys," she said, snapping her fingers as the name popped into place.
"Erinys, the punisher of the unfaithful." His brow furrowed. "A minor goddess. I do not understand why she or her followers would possess such a book, a book that tells of ways to defeat us."
"Maybe she wanted to punish those in Atlantis," Grace offered.
His nostrils flared. "We are not, nor have we ever been, unfaithful to anyone."
O-kay. Sore topic. And one she wouldn't bring up again. "I'm sure you weren't, big guy," she said, hoping to placate him.
"We do not attempt to conquer the surface. We serve our gods faithfully. We do nothing to earn ourselves punishment."
"Well, now, that's not exactly true." Even though she'd just promised herself she wouldn't bring this up again, she found herself saying, "You obviously did something . Your entire city was cast into the sea."
"We existed. That is why we were hidden in the sea. The way I understand it is we were never meant to be created, yet Zeus cut off his father's-" he paused "-manhood, causing Cronus's blood to splatter upon the earth. Thus, we were formed. Though he was-is-our brother, Zeus feared what we could do, so he banished us from the land he viewed as his playground. We were not unfaithful."
"You were created by the blood of a god?" she asked, beyond curious about him.
"No," he answered. "My parents conceived me through the more traditional manner. My ancestors were the ones created by a god's blood." His lips pressed together firmly, stubbornly, and she knew he'd say no more on the subject.
His parents were dead, she remembered from her vision, and she ached for him. Ached because he'd been the one to find them. Ached because they'd been murdered in ways so cruel she cringed from the thoughts. She knew how devastating losing a loved one was. He'd lost everyone close to him in one fatal swoop.
"Your brother," Darius said, effectively changing the subject. "You said he's been missing for several weeks."
The mention of Alex served as a cold reminder of why she was here. "He hasn't been home, hasn't called, and that isn't like him."
"And there were men chasing him through the jungle, trying to obtain the medallion from him?"
"Perhaps you should tell me everything that happened before and after you escaped me."
She told him what she knew, leaving out no detail.
"These men," he said, "the Argonauts who found you in the jungle. Would they harm your brother if they knew of the medallion?"
"Of course not."
Darius pursed his lips as he wondered just how many were involved in this tangled web of mystery-which was becoming more complicated every time Grace opened her mouth. "I still wish to find and speak with them." He pushed to his feet. "The medallion is not here," he growled. "I have searched every inch of the cave."
"I didn't lie to you," she assured him. "I lost it in the mist."
He jerked a hand through his hair. Once again he was left unsure whether to believe Grace. Her motives seemed pure, the protection of her brother; yet her claim of losing the medallion seemed a lie. Had she stolen it, only to lose it?
As he stood there, warring within himself, his heated tattoos illuminated a dark object, glinting in the corner of his eye. He'd seen the object during his search, but had ignored it. Now he bent down and studied it. Grace's weapon, he realized. The same sort of weapon the human guards carried at Javar's palace.
"Why did you carry this?" he asked her. His fingers drifted through the metal.
"The gun?" She closed the distance between them and knelt beside him. Her heady essence wrapped around him.
"A gun," he echoed. "Why did you carry this?" he asked again.
"To protect myself. I bought it from a peddler in Manaus."
"What does it do?" His voice was solemn, deep. "As I recall, you tried to wound me with it, but nothing happened."
"The cylinder wasn't loaded. If the cylinder had been loaded, bullets would have shot out when I pulled the trigger and slammed into you, causing injury. Maybe even death."
Intrigued, he eyed the gun with new expectations. A complicated piece of weaponry, to be sure. The coil, the thin shaft. "I would like to see this in action."
"I just bet you would," she muttered.
He flicked her a glance. "If I make it so that you can hold this weapon, will you show me how to work it?"
"I don't have any bullets," she said.
"Where? We're not exactly in the bustling heart of a city, with eager merchants hawking their wares."
"Later, then. When we return to your home. You can obtain these bullets and show me how this weapon works."
"All right," she said. Though Grace wasn't sure she wanted him to handle a loaded gun. Nor was she sure she wanted to take him to a gun range. "But how are we going to get it home? We can't even pick it up."
He turned back to the gun, letting his hands hover over the top, and closed his eyes. One minute melted into another. Lines of strain bracketed his mouth, and his bronze skin paled. Grace didn't utter a sound, didn't move. She didn't know what he was doing, but she was loath to interrupt.
Finally, he let out a breath and opened his eyes. He scooped his hand under the gun and lifted. Instead of sinking past an immaterial palm, the gun remained cradled.
"How did you do that?" Awe laced her voice. She took the weapon and tucked it in the drawstring waist of her sweats.
He ignored her question. "Come," he said, stalking to the entrance. "I wish to find these Argonauts."
"They have guns of their own," she warned him. "I saw them."
The dire warning didn't cause him a moment's concern, though his gaze gleamed with a tiny flicker of pleasure that she sought to offer it. "They will not even know we are here. We are like ghosts, remember?"
They were forced to crawl on their hands and knees until they reached the cave's entrance. Grace loved the way her knees glided through every rock and twig, but wondered why Darius didn't do his instant transfer thingy. They reached the end, and she eased to her feet. The heat and humidity of the Amazon threatened to roast her, and she was no longer so thankful for her sweats. Familiar scents drifted to her nostrils: dewy foliage, orchids, and recent rain.
"How does one protect oneself from a gun?" Darius asked, ushering her beyond a flourishing green bush.
"Kevlar vests. That's what the police use, anyway."
His expression turned pensive. "I would like some of these vests."
"Maybe we can order you some on the Internet. I'll do a search-"
Her body tingled in strange rippling waves, and she gasped. A piece of fruit had sailed through her and smashed into a tree. Laughter drifted to her ears, not human, but amused all the same. Two more missiles sailed through her as Darius whipped around. He launched himself at her, tossing her to the ground. His weight crushed her.
"How have you been spotted, woman?" he demanded.
"Those damn monkeys!" She glared up at him, blaming him for her trials, slowly becoming aware of the perfect fit of their bodies and the warm, seductive scent of him. "You said no one would know we were here."
"Monkeys are responsible?" His lips compressed, and if she weren't mistaken, amusement twinkled in his golden eyes. She paused. Golden again? The only time they'd been golden like this was right after he kissed her. What made them change? "Animals can see what the human eye cannot," he said.
"Are you laughing at me?"
"What I want to know is why he didn't throw anything at you."
"My guess is that he knew I would have him for my next meal if he did so."
She liked this side of Darius, playful and teasing.
His gaze veered to her lips, and heat suddenly seared his eyes. All traces of merriment fled from his expression. Her own smile faded. Memories of the last time he'd lain on top of her licked through her mind. And just like that, she wanted him again. The knowledge angered her. How could she desire this man?
She must have moved, must have arched her hips, because Darius hissed a torrent of air between his teeth. His muscles were tense, and he was leaning toward her. Closer, closer still.
In one swift motion, he jerked to his feet.
"Up," he commanded, his tone inexorable. "You're wasting time."
Wasting time? Wasting time! Her? Irritated, Grace stood and anchored her hands on her hips. "It's going to be nothing but good times with you. I can tell."
Darius led her around for the next hour. The heat obviously agreed with him. While he looked as refreshed and vibrant as if he'd just stepped from a yoga class, dirt glued itself to her clothes and body. Even her hair was weighted down and wilted. She was a ghost.
Wasn't she supposed to stay clean and untouched by the elements?
"I hate this place," she muttered. Already she was tired and thirsty. And cranky. "I need a coconut smoothie."
The man responsible for her distress finally halted. "There are no Argonauts here."
No shit, Sherlock . Yes, definitely cranky. "I'm telling you, they were here."
"I believe you," he assured her, as if that had never been in question. "Their footprints are everywhere." He scanned the trees. "Do you know the names of the men who helped you?"
"Yes. Jason and Mitch. And Patrick," she added.
"I need their surnames, too."
"Sorry." She shook her head. "They didn't offer, and at the time I didn't care to ask."
Darius fought a wave of disappointment. He'd hoped to find the men, question them and finally gain at least some of the answers he sought. The sooner he finished this, the sooner he could reclaim Javar's palace-and the sooner his life returned to normal. No more chaos. No more unquenchable desires.
No more Grace.
His lips lifted in a scowl. She was quickly propelling him to the brink of madness. The way she moved, sultry, swaying. The way she spoke, challenging, lilting. The way she watched him with hunger in her eyes-hunger she couldn't quite hide.
She didn't want to want him, but want him she did. Very much.
And he wanted her right back-alarmingly so.
After he'd uttered the binding spell, he'd seen inside her mind and knew she ran from her own desires. Knew her brother, Alex, did the same. They'd watched their father slowly deteriorate, then quickly die. Grace had loved her father for the kind, gentle man he'd been, but watching him fade had been so painful she'd retreated to fantasy, imagining herself anywhere but home. Imagining herself in all kinds of exhilarating situations. A crime fighter of unequalled strength. A lady pirate who sailed the high seas. A siren who lured men to her bed and pleasured them into unconsciousness. The last intrigued him most.
She craved excitement and passion and all the things she'd created in her dreams, but so far life had offered her none of those things. Nothing managed to live up to her expectations. She'd known one disappointing adventure after another... until she stumbled through the mist. Then she'd finally found the exhilaration she had always craved.
How could he consider ending her life, when she was only just now beginning to experience her dreams? The question plagued him because he knew the answer, he simply could not accept it. Though he might want her to live, he would fulfill his oath.
Darius sighed. He was wasting time here, time that he didn't have to spare. His powers were already weakening. He wasn't sure how much longer he had before he weakened completely.
"Let us journey back to your home," he told Grace. He didn't wait for her response, he simply wrapped his fingers around her wrist.
"Wait. I want to head into town and ask around about Alex," she said. "That's why I brought his pic-" Before she could finish her sentence, he pictured her home and those very walls materialized around them.