Only two minutes passed before Darius dragged her into a nearby souvenir shop, shoving people aside in his haste to enter.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am," Grace said. "You, too, sir." To Darius, she demanded quietly, "What are you doing?"
The fierce gleam in his ice-blue eyes made her swallow a lump of apprehension. "You were right," he said. "You were being followed." He glanced over his shoulder. "You still are."
"What!" she gasped, just as he pinned her against a rack of T-shirts. She'd felt no menacing presence today, felt no watchful eyes on her back.
"I would have noticed sooner," he said wryly, keeping his gaze trained on the store window, "but my mind was not where it should have been."
"What should we do? Who is it?"
"A human male. Short. He's wearing some type of coat, yet the day is warm."
Grace tried to peek over Darius's shoulder, but it proved too broad and too high. "Can he see us?"
"No, but he's waiting outside this shop."
"Let's go out the back. He'll never know, and we can-"
"No." Darius skimmed his hands inside his pockets, gave a flick of his wrists, and plucked out two daggers. The thickness of his hands and forearms kept the blades concealed from the public, but she knew they were there. He gripped each jeweled weapon tightly. "I wish to have a... conversation with the man."
Stunned, horrified, she only managed a choked gasp in response.
Good Lord. There might be a bloodbath this day.
"You can't kill anyone," she whispered fiercely. Her gaze darted around wildly. Tourists were staring at them like they were the morning's entertainment. "Please," she added more quietly, "put the knives away before someone notices them."
"The knives stay," he said, his voice cold, unfeeling.
"You don't understand. This-"
"No, Grace." He pinned her with a glare. " You don't understand. Purchase something from this store. Anything. Now."
Too nervous to care what she bought, Grace shakily lifted a plastic replica of the Empire State Building. After she paid for it, she gripped the bag and walked with Darius to the door. Her stomach had yet to settle.
"Good choice," he said, motioning to the small building. "Use the tip as a weapon if you must. Jab his eyes."
Jab his eyes? Grace gulped. I should have bought a snow globe . She didn't mind using Mace; that was a spray, for God's sake. But using a model of the Empire State Building, the centerpiece of Manhattan, to blind a human being...
I'm just a flight attendant on extended leave , she thought dazedly. I do not jab people .
Darius must have sensed her unease because he stopped just before they stepped outside. Facing her, he said, "I would leave you here if I could, but the binding spell does not permit it."
"Having a conversation with this person really isn't necessary." Even to her own ears, she sounded timid, and she winced. She didn't want Darius injured or in trouble with the law. "I've seen enough movies and read enough books to know that sometimes the safest course of action is to retreat."
"And sometimes the safest course of action is the wrong one."
"When I asked you to help me find Alex, I never meant to place you in danger."
His features softened at her admission, but that flash of guilt was back. "This man might have information about your brother. He could be the one who followed him through the jungle, the one who locked him away. Do you really want to let him go?"
"No," she said quietly. Then more firmly, "No."
"I will be safe. And so will you."
"Let's use violence as a last resort, though. Okay?"
A long, protracted silence enveloped them. "As you wish," he said reluctantly. "In return for that concession, I want you to stay behind me. And do not speak again until I give you permission. You will distract me otherwise."
Resisting the urge to link her fingers through his, she followed him into the sunlight. A warm breeze greeted them as they began stalking forward. At first she thought Darius meant to lead their tail to a private ally, but her warrior didn't even try to pretend ignorance. He approached the man clad in a brown trench coat who was standing in front of a store window pretending to look inside. At maternity dresses? Puh-lease.
Watching their reflections, the man realized Darius meant to grab him. He stiffened, gasped and jolted into motion, running from them as fast as his booted feet could carry him.
"Run, Grace," Darius called over his shoulder, as he, too, started running.
An invisible force wrenched her behind Darius, forcing her body into action. Her feet barely touched the ground as she flew, literally flew, after him. Damn this binding spell!
Darius followed the man through traffic lights and around cars, past people and over commerce tables. Irritated grunts and surprised screams echoed in her ears, blending with the sound of her own panting. Was that a police siren? Air burned her lungs. She clutched the plastic Empire State Building as they ran on and on.
If this kept up, she just might be a luscious size six by the end of the month.
When Darius finally came within arm's reach, he grabbed his target by the neck, quickly cutting off any screams of protest. Using only one hand, he lifted the man up and carried him into a nearby alley. There, he dropped him, watching the flailing man fall onto his butt and scramble to the wall. Darius crossed his arms over his chest, daring him to make a move.
Behind them, Grace huffed and puffed to a standstill, then hunched over, gasping for breath. If she survived the day, she was going to treat herself and Alex to a triple dip hot fudge sundae. Or perhaps a banana split. Or maybe fresh doughnuts dripping with chocolate glaze. Maybe all three. She straightened and saw several men huddled against the brownstone wall. Their clothes were threadbare, and their faces dirty and scared. Did they think they would have to face Darius next?
Forcing a smile, Grace handed one of the men her Empire State Building-she was not jabbing anyone today-and reached into her wallet. She withdrew several bills. At the sight of cash, the alley men lost all interest in Darius.
"For you," she said, paying them to go away and keep this "their little secret." I'm aiding and abetting a criminal , she thought, an unexpected wave of excitement crashing inside her.
Excitement? No, surely not. skiing in Aspen hadn't excited her. Paragliding in Mexico hadn't excited her. Most likely what she felt so intently was fear. Any second she expected the police to show up and haul her and Darius away.
The threat came as the man pushed to his feet.
Both of Darius's brows winged up. A sheen of sweat glistened on his neck and face, but his expression did not portray a hint of weakness. "Are you a woman, then?" he said. "First you hide in the shadows, and when you are caught, you scream?"
"You lay a single hand on me, the cops will be all over you."
Darius grabbed him by the shoulders, angling his wrists in a crisscross and pressing his knives subtly into the man's carotid artery. Not enough to break the skin, but enough to sting.
That's when Grace received her first good look at the man. Shock held her frozen for a long while. "Patrick?" she said when she finally found her voice. This man worked with her brother; he'd even escorted her to the boat, and had engaged her in several conversations about her family afterward. "What's going on? Why were you following me?"
"Answer her questions," Darius demanded. When Patrick still refused to speak, Darius increased the pressure of the blades, making small pricks and drawing blood.
"You won't kill me," he said smugly.
"You're right. I won't kill you. Not with blades, at least." Darius dropped his weapons and wrapped his hands around the man's neck.
"I-I wasn't following her. I swear," Patrick sputtered, his face slowly fading from pink, to white, to blue. He kicked and clawed, losing his smugness with his need for air.
Eyes wide, she glanced from Darius to Patrick, from Patrick to Darius. Intimidation was a good tactic for getting what they wanted, but she knew Darius wasn't trying to intimidate. He really would kill Patrick without a single qualm.
"You are lying, and I do not like liars," Darius said, his voice so bored he could have been commenting on the mating habits of flies. But then his eyes slitted and his voice deepened, no longer dripping with boredom, but with rage. "I recognize you. You are the one who touched Grace while she was sleeping."
Patrick's eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "No, no," he gasped, struggling to loosen Darius's grip. "I didn't."
"I watched you do it," he said, his teeth bared.
Were those fangs? She shivered as she stared at the long, sharp incisors. Then their words sank into her brain. "He touched me?" she gasped, hands anchoring on her hips. To Patrick, she ground out, "Which part of me?"
"Your cheek," Darius told her.
Her jaw gnashed in fury.
"You couldn't have watched me," Patrick said to Darius. "You weren't on the boat."
No, he hadn't been on the boat, but then, Darius hadn't needed to be. He'd used his medallion on her like he'd done to Alex, she realized, not liking that he'd seen her and she hadn't known.
Patrick made a gargled sound, and his battle for freedom intensified. His legs flailed, and his hands slashed.
"Were we in my home," Darius said, "I would have your hands removed for such an offense."
"I didn't hurt her," Patrick squeaked. "You know I didn't hurt her."
"Wrong again," Darius said. A flash of green scales pulsed over his skin. "You touched my woman. Mine. For that alone I want to kill you."
Grace's heart stopped. Literally stopped, suspended in her chest. Which should she react to first? The scales or the "she is my woman" statement? Neither, she decided. Only Alex mattered right now. Not her shock at the fact that there were actually dragon scales under Darius's skin, and certainly not her unwanted joy at his words.
Tamping down her emotions, she forced her attention to Patrick. His lips were moving, but no sound emerged. "I think he's trying to say something, Darius," she said.
Several seconds passed before Darius loosened his hold. "Have you something to say?"
"I-" Patrick sucked in a deep breath. "Just need-" deep breath "-a moment."
"You're supposed to be looking for my brother," Grace told him. "Why aren't you in Brazil?"
"He's dead. Alex's dead. We found evidence right after you left. I'm sorry."
Had Darius not shown Grace proof that Alex lived, she would have sank to her knees and sobbed. Of all the things to say, of all the things to feign remorse about, that was the crudest.
Her eyes narrowed. "You may kill him, Darius."
Darius flicked her a startled glance, staring at her lips as if he couldn't quite believe what they'd proclaimed. He grinned slowly, then turned that grin to Patrick.
"What the woman wants," he said, "I give her."
Both of Patrick's palms pushed at Darius's chest, but the action had no effect. "I can't tell you anything. I'll lose everything, damn it. Everything!"
"So you would rather lose your life?"
Darius increased the pressure. Patrick gurgled, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to suck in air. Grace snapped out of her murderous inclinations. Thinking about a death and actually witnessing it were two totally different things.
Not knowing what else to do, she laid her hand on Darius's arm. "Perhaps I spoke too hastily," she said. "Let's give him one more chance."
Darius glanced at her hand, then brought his gaze to her face, never releasing Patrick. The blue in Darius's eyes had faded substantially, making them appear almost completely white.
"Let him go. Please." Her hand inched upward, and she stroked her fingers over his cheek. "For me."
She didn't know why she'd added those last words and didn't expect them to work. Yet color began to return to Darius's eyes, not ice-blue but gorgeous golden-brown. The color she was coming to love.
"Please," she said again.
He released Patrick in the next instant. The gasping man collapsed on the dirty concrete, wheezing as he tried to fill his lungs. Red handprints encircled his neck, changing to a blue-black as she watched. She and Darius waited side by side, silent, as Patrick breathed life back into his body.
"Why were you following Grace?" Darius demanded. "I will not give you another chance to answer, so consider your words carefully."
Patrick closed his eyes and leaned his shoulders into the wall. His fingers massaged at his throat. "The medallion," he said, his voice hoarse, broken. "I followed her for the medallion."
"Why?" Every muscle Darius possessed stiffened. "What did you hope to do with it?"
"My boss... he wants your jewels," Patrick choked out. "That's all."
"How do you know what I am?"
"You're like the others. The ones we... " His words trailed off. "I was only to keep track of Grace's whereabouts, to record where she went and who she talked to. I wasn't to harm her in any way. I swear."
"Give us a name?" she said sharply, though she was beginning to suspect the answer.
His shoulders slumped, and he laughed, a humorless, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening rasp. "I'll tell you, but you know what? You'd better be prepared to wade nose-deep in shit because that's what he's going to throw at you. He's the greediest son of a bitch I've ever met, and he'll do anything, anything to get what he wants."
"His name," she insisted.
"Jason Graves." He paused, adding gruffly, "Alex's boss. The owner of Argonauts."
A cold shiver of dread attacked Grace. Argonauts. Jason. Bits of information began to piece together in her mind. Trembling inside, Grace bent down until she and Patrick were eye-to-eye. She cupped his chin with shaky hands and forced him to face her, to stare her directly in the eyes. "Is Jason Graves holding Alex captive?"
Patrick nodded reluctantly.
"Where?" The word lashed from her. "Here in the States? Brazil?"
"Different places. Never the same place for long."
"Was he in Brazil while I was there? Is that why you guys were so eager to send me home?" Why hadn't they hurt her? Why hadn't they threatened Alex with her life? There had to be a reason.
"We wanted you out of there so you wouldn't hinder our search for the medallion. Other than that, I'm as clueless as you as to where he is," he added. "I'm told on a need to know basis, and I don't need to know that."
"How long has he been a prisoner?"
"A few weeks." Patrick wheezed, then coughed. "You were supposed to find the e-mail we sent you and stop searching. Why the hell didn't you stop searching?"
His question was rhetorical, so she didn't bother with a response. "What does Jason plan to do with him? Kill him? Release him later?"
"Who knows?" he said, but the truth was there in his eyes. Alex would never be released. Not alive. "Last I heard, he was fine."
Shoving to her feet, Grace looked up at Darius. "We have to go to the police," she said. "We have to tell them what's going on."
"What are police?"
When she explained, he said sharply, "No." He shook his head, causing black locks of hair to brush his temples. "We will involve no one else."
"They'll help us. They'll-"
"They will only hinder our search. I would be unable to use my... special skills. I will find your brother on my own."
He was asking her to trust him absolutely, to place her brother's life in his hands. Could she? Dare she? Her gaze fell to her hands.
"What will you do with these police of yours?" Darius demanded. "Will you tell them the myth of Atlantis is true and your brother hoped to prove it? Will you tell them you have traveled there? Will you bring more of your people and heartache to my land?"
Her eyes closed for a brief moment. She mentally sighed. Did she dare trust him? she asked herself again. Yes. She dared. No man was more competent. And no other man possessed the magical gifts that Darius did. He could do things the law couldn't; he could take her places the law couldn't. "I trust you," she said. "I won't go to them."
He nodded as if her answer had meant little to him, but she saw the flood of relief in his eyes. He whipped his attention to Patrick. "If you come near Grace again," he said, his tone harsh, lethal, "you'll find no more mercy from me. Do you understand?"
Slowly Patrick nodded. The action caused him to wince.
Eyes glowing ice-blue, Darius bent down and retrieved his blades. He wavered suddenly, but righted himself. Grace gripped his arm to help steady him. His skin was pale again as he secured his weapons inside his pockets. He wound his arm around her waist and curled his fingers possessively on her rib cage.
"Let us pay this Jason Graves a visit."