Jewel floated through the clouds, so in love with Gray she might never come down. A smile curled her lips. What Gray had done to her body... pure magic, leaving her decadently content. Memories of the way he claimed her would fuel her dreams for the rest of her life. Making love with him had given her a sense of completion and contentment she hadn't dreamed possible.
Night had fallen and the rain had stopped. The ground beneath her was hard, softened slightly by moss and leaves, but Gray's presence more than made up for any discomfort. She sighed a sated sigh, loving the way she was cradled in his arms, cuddled against him.
This was the life she'd always dreamed for herself. Every time she'd been punished, every time someone was killed because of her predictions, she'd pictured herself tucked in the safety of Gray's embrace.
She'd come so close to screaming out her love for him. He'd asked her if she loved him, several times, and each time she'd had to fight to hold the words back. If he'd pulled away from her... she shuddered.
He uttered a string of unintelligible words, cutting through the nighttime silence. His body jerked and Jewel jolted upright.
"Oww!" she cried when her forehead slammed into the shelter ceiling. She lay back down and edged to her side. It should have been difficult, if not impossible to see in the darkened tent; after all, the dome cast absolutely no light. As she stared down at Gray, she saw every nuance of his face, and her jaw dropped open on a gasp.
His eyes were open - and glowing that bright, eerie red again. His skin was pallid, and sweat poured from his overheated body. Her stomach knotted into a thousand different loops. More changes were occurring inside him.
"Gray," she said. What could she do? How could she help him accept what was happening? If he fought, he would only make himself weaker. Leaning down, she whispered in his ear. "I'm here. I'll keep you safe. Nothing bad will happen. I promise."
Slowly his muscles relaxed.
"I'm here," she repeated. "I'm here."
Color spread over his skin, returning him to his natural bronze. His eyes ceased glowing, dimming in gradual degrees. The tent darkened, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"How do you feel?" she asked him.
"I can see in the dark," he said flatly. "And as you can tell, I'm not wearing my night-vision goggles. I've got to get out of here."
Gray quickly dressed and scooted himself out of the tent. A cool, salty breeze kissed him, taunting in its sweetness. Without bothering with his boots, he grabbed his transmitter and stalked to the river, gazing out at the beauty of the land. Pitch-black greeted him, yet he saw everything as if it were the bright light of day. Leaves shook and wafted on the bright green trees. The clear river water rippled against the wind. A school of rainbow-colored fish swam past, their fins splashing at the surface.
Seeing in the dark was a cool superhero trick, yeah, one he knew he'd come to enjoy. That wasn't what bothered him. As he'd lain in the tent, Jewel in his arms, his body sated from their loving, he'd been hit by another desire to bite into her neck and drink her blood. This time, the need had nearly been unquenchable. Unstoppable. Stronger than ever before. With Jewel, the more he touched her, the more he wanted to bite her.
He was human. A man. Not a demon or a vampire, the epitome of evil and all he fought against. But how long could he hold out? He'd thought his need to protect her would be enough to make him keep his teeth to himself.
He'd thought wrong.
"Santa to Mother," he said into the transmitter. Maybe his boss could help.
Jude Quinlin came online moments later and they discussed Ra Dracas and the list Gray had wanted. Apparently vampires loathed fire, demons hated the cold,
Formorians could see in the dark, and on and on the list went. Things he mostly already knew. "Is there a way to change vampires back into humans?"
"Not that we've found."
"Keep digging." Gray ended the transmission and jerked a hand through his hair. He paused. There was no pain in his arm. No pain in his neck. He moved his hand to his neck. No wound. His gaze jerked to his arm. No wound there, either.
They were completely healed.
A gasp sounded behind him, and he whipped around. Jewel's mouth hung open, and her otherworldly blue eyes stared down at his feet. She held a glow stick, her features illuminated by its halo of light.
"What?" His gaze snapped to the ground, and his own mouth fell wide open. My God. His feet were hovering inches above the grass.
"How do I get down?" he barked.
"Visualize your feet touching the ground?" A question, not a statement. His attention snagged on her. "You don't know?"
Without offering an answer, she tentatively closed the distance between them, wrapped her fingers around his ankles and tugged. He floated down until gently hitting a solid foundation.
"I thought I could handle the changes as they came," he said rawly. "You're alive. Nothing else matters."
"I'm becoming one of them."
"No, you're still Gray. My Gray."
Unbidden, his gaze traveled to her neck, to the erratic pulse there. "You wouldn't say that if you could get inside my head right now."
Her hand reached out and moved up his chest, sliding along the ridges of stomach muscles, making him suck in a breath. Making his skin tingle. Just as he'd done to her, she found his nipples and rolled them between her fingers. "You're Gray," she said again. "You're hard and hot and wonderful. You're not a monster."
His blood heated with desire and simmered with need. More desire, more need than ever before because all of his senses were suddenly heightened. Her mystical scent drenched him; her heat pulsed at him. Her own desire and need blasted him, swimming and blending with his own.
His mouth watered. Maybe, if he allowed himself one taste, just one taste of her blood... He jerked away from her. Hell, no. If he took her in his arms, his tentative control would snap.
Hurt and embarrassment crossed her delicate cameo features.
He almost drew her back, but managed to resist. "Don't touch me again."
Her eyes widened with hurt surprise, and she stumbled backward. "But... why?"
The dome began to emit a slight ray of light, sweeping over trees and rocks. He ignored her as determinedly as she'd ignored his questions of love last night. "Let's pack up. We need to get moving if we want to reach the Temple of Cronus on schedule."
As he spoke, the hairs on the back of his neck rose. The corner of his eye caught a flicker of movement, and every instinct he possessed screamed to duck. He grabbed Jewel by the forearms and propelled them both to the ground. A spear sailed through the air, slicking the spot he'd stood and slamming into a thick tree trunk.
"We want Dunamis, human. If you give it to us, your death will not be so painful for you." The deep male voice boomed as loud as thunder - and came from the water.
Gray forgot everything but protecting his woman. All at once he catalogued his escape route and sized up his enemy. There were at least fifty mermen in the water, spears raised. If there'd been more light, Gray knew those spears would be embedded in his back. The urge to fight them was there, but he wouldn't risk Jewel getting hurt.
"Let's go," he told her, jumping to his feet and jerking her up with him. He kept her body shielded with his.
He pushed her into the shadows of the forest, grabbed her wrist and started running. Rocks dug into his bare feet, but he kept moving. "This is my fault. I knew better than to go to the river."
"I should have known they would come back," she babbled. "I should have at least known what they were planning."
"At least they have to stay in the water." A naked limb reached out and slapped his cheek. He ground to a halt just in front of their tent.
Jewel shook her head almost violently. "After a storm, they can walk on land."
Of course they could.
"I can't believe this is happening," she said, upset deep in the undertones of her voice.
"Keep your voice down. You're like a beacon right now, signaling our every move." Motions quick and precise, he disassembled their tent and hooked it to his backpack. "How long do we have?"
Jewel remained eerily silent.
Gray jerked on his boots and raced around the camp, grabbing all of their stuff and cramming it into his bag. "Which way should we go?" He clasped Jewel's wrist and bolted toward the trees, using the escape route he'd mapped out yesterday. He did his best to make their tracks as invisible as possible.
She didn't answer. Her body was stiff, and she was barely moving, slowing him down, practically making him drag her. He flicked a glance over his shoulder. The blue of her eyes swirled, a fathomless pool.
"They are even now leaving the water."
Her voice was as otherworldly as her eyes. Surreal. Like a thousand voices layered into one. Her features were so blank she appeared to be in a trance.
"They plan to scour these woods until you are found and destroyed."
"Sweetheart, I know that. What I don't know is where to go. You need to direct me." Silence.
Her feet tripped over a fallen limb, and she stumbled forward. Her body was too stiff to bend and ease the fall. He caught her, absorbing her weight. Good Lord. What was happening to her? Not knowing what else to do, Gray hefted her onto his shoulder. He broke into a sprint. "Jewel?"
He swatted her bottom. "Snap out of it, baby, and tell me where to go."
She instantly responded to the direct command. "Travel into the Inner City. There you will find a shield to protect you."
"A shield? What are you talking about?" Turning toward the city, he quickened his speed. He didn't even think about putting her down. She was as still as the dead, her voice still layered with that weird inflection. He was worried about her, wanted to assure himself she was okay, but he couldn't slow down.
Something the merman said bothered him... but what? He replayed the fish man's voice in his mind as he maneuvered around the trees and ducked under limbs.
We want Dunamis, human. Give it to us.
He blinked. They thought he had the jewel. Why would they think that? Unless... Unless his supposition last night when he'd been talking to his boss had been right. Dunamis could breathe, Jude had said.
Gray's arms tightened around the woman on his shoulder. Like Dunamis, Jewel knew what his enemy was planning and knew how to direct him to safety. And she'd told him Dunamis was protected by a man who wanted to destroy it. Protect. Destroy. The two were complete opposites. Gray wanted to protect Jewel, but he wanted to destroy Dunamis.
He shook his head. Surely not. No. Not possible. But apprehension slithered through him and the idea refused to leave. His Jewel was not the jewel. The Jewel of Dunamis was a stone.
Please God, let the Jewel of Dunamis be a stone.
The woods were becoming brighter, but Gray did his best to stay in the shadows. He'd been running for what seemed an eternity. His breath emerged ragged, and he hated that Jewel bounced up and down on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Was he hurting her? She never uttered a protest.
A spear sailed past her ear, then another, barely missing him. Only his new, lightning-fast reflexes saved them. Gray slanted a quick, backward glance. The mermen were closing in on him. Fast. Their tails had split in two, giving them glistening, scaled legs. How the hell was he supposed to outrun them?
"Where do I go, Jewel? Where will you be safe? How do I get us out of here?"
"Fly. Mermen cannot fly," she said. "You can."
Fly? At the river, he'd floated, but it hadn't been on purpose. He didn't know how to do it on his own. Another spear whizzed past him.
He actually heard it cutting through the air and was able to slant to the side before getting hit. Down here, like this, Jewel was in danger. That clinched it. He had to try.
"Oh, shit," he muttered, then pictured himself flying.