Jewel rifled through the only closet in the room and found several robes. She withdrew a sheer blue one, lace jagged across the hem and small, glistening sapphires sewed into the bodice. They'd bathed and Gray was already dressed in the leather pants and tie-shirt of the dragons.
He'd radioed his boss several moments ago and told the man that he had Dunamis in his possession. After minutes of the man's excited whooping, minutes of her heart skipping multiple beats, Gray pried a sapphire from the wall and gave her a secret, tender grin before stuffing it in his bag.
How they were going to get her past OBI, she didn't know. She only knew she was going to the surface! "What do you think?" she asked, holding the glittery material up to her body.
"I think I prefer you naked."
She laughed and shimmied the material over her head, covering her nakedness. "I refuse to go to lunch naked."
Just as she was fastening the ties of her new light blue robe, a knock sounded at the door. "Enter," she called.
The doors slit down the middle and slid apart. A blond warrior stood in the entrance, the dragon medallion hanging from his neck aglow.
"Brand," Jewel said with a smile. "Nice to see you again."
"And you. Come," he said, his golden eyes averted to keep him from seeing anything he shouldn't. His hair hung in disarray around his shoulders, giving his amused features a roguish quality. "Lunch is served."
Jewel sighed, already mourning the loss of this wonderful reprieve. Of the soft touches Gray liked to slide over her body, of the hot kisses he liked to climb up her legs. As if he couldn't stand letting her go, either, he strode to her side and placed a kiss on her lips, their tongues daring a quick mating.
"Gods above," Brand muttered, spinning on his heel. They followed him down the hall.
Gray linked their fingers and gave a gentle squeeze. "Everything's going to be okay. You'll see. I won't leave your side." Releasing her hand, he anchored his palm to her neck and massaged, shifting strands of her hair. "If there's any trouble," he added, staring into her eyes, making her feel warm and cherished, "I'll go all demon on Darius's ass."
The dragon-carved table was piled high with food and drink, wafting a mouth-watering aroma in every direction. All of the warriors Gray had met in the forest were there, plus a few more, sitting impatiently, waiting for him and Jewel to arrive. Darius claimed the head of the table with a formally clad Grace on his right. A ruby necklace draped her neck, her red hair was piled high on her head, and she wore a soft pink gown.
The only two available chairs were on Darius's left. Gray claimed the one closest to the dragon, and Jewel eased in beside him.
"You may eat," Darius said.
Immediately the men dug into the food, a meal that consisted of honey-glazed ham, cranberry turkey, and some kind of white pudding. Each recipe came from the surface, Jewel realized, for she'd seen Gray eat each of these dishes. She spooned a bite of the pudding into her mouth and closed her eyes in surrender as the rich, decadent flavor spread on her tongue.
"I hope you found the room satisfactory," Grace said after swallowing a bite of ham. "We did. Thank you." Jewel offered her a soft smile.
"Darius explained that you have no name." The pretty human wore an expression of utter perplexity. "He said most people call you 'it' or 'slave'."
"She has a name," Gray said, his tone flat and hard and brooking no room for argument. "It's Jewel."
"See." She tossed Darius a smug glance. "I told you she had a name. A beautiful one, at that." Smiling, she returned her attention to Jewel. "I think it's so cool you can predict the future. Darius and I could have used that kind of ability when I first came here. You could have told him how much he loved me, so he wouldn't have fought it so hard."
Darius arched his brows, his only reaction to his wife's taunting. He tossed back a drink of wine. "What know you of the vampires and demons... Jewel?"
The room tapered to absolute silence; everyone present waited with baited breath for her answer. Stomach knotting painfully, Jewel said, "I would like to discuss that with you in private."
She meant the discussion to come after lunch. Darius took her words to heart. "Leave us," he told his men.
Though his tone was conversational, the dragons reacted immediately, grabbing their food as they jolted to their feet. Their chairs skidded behind them, creating a screeching symphony. Besides Jewel and Darius, Gray and Grace were the only ones to remain.
Darius looked pointedly at Grace.
"You told me I could stay, remember?" she said stubbornly. She leaned back in her chair, pinched a piece of turkey from her plate and nibbled on the edges, the picture of relaxation.
Darius turned that look on Gray.
"Don't even try it," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm staying. End of story."
Jewel drew in a deep, cleansing breath, and met Darius's piercing stare as he next turned it on her. "I have an impending sense of doom for you. Marina once asked me what I knew of the Atlantean Mists."
Fury blazed in the blue depths of his eyes. "What did you tell her?" he growled. "Watch your tone, Lizard," Gray snapped, "or the conversation ends here."
The dragon king radiated the patient stillness of a predator. Then he nodded stiffly and repeated his question in a gentler tone.
"You know I cannot lie, so I gave her no answer at all. She does know about the mists, however, and hopes to gain control of them."
Little by little, the dragon relaxed. He snorted. "As if her puny army could match mine."
Tapping a finger on her chin, Grace frowned. "Why would this Marina want control of the portals? Atlantean creatures cannot survive outside of Atlantis. They die within days. Even Darius was not impervious."
"What!" Gray straightened. "Atlanteans die outside of Atlantis?"
Jewel paled. Oh, gods. Having always felt connected to Gray and the surface world, she'd forgotten about her connection to Atlantis. If she traveled to the surface, she would die. She covered her mouth with a shaky hand, hoping to cut off her moan of horror.
"Jewel," Darius prompted.
Would Gray stay here? He claimed to love her, but would that be enough to keep him here? "Jewel?" Darius said again.
Gathering her composure nearly proved impossible, but she did it. She squared her shoulders and forced her next words to form steadily. "Marina doesn't know she will die if she leaves. None of the creatures do. Remember, no one even knew of the portals except the dragons until Grace and her brother came through. That's when the vampires learned of the passages, and now of all Atlantis is aware, yet none of them know of our vulnerabilities. Marina assumes she can live on the surface without any problem."
"In case you're wondering," Grace said to Gray, "The Atlantean Mists are the portals you used to get here."
Gray gave her no reaction. His skin was pallid, the lines around his mouth taut. "Speaking of the portals," Grace added, "how did you get past Darius?"
Finally he snapped back to attention, though his expression remained grim. "You have a portal here? This isn't the palace I entered."
Darius's lips dipped into a fierce frown. "You entered Javar's. The guards posted there obviously didn't see you. Did you hurt them?" He leaned forward on his elbows, his lips tight in a scowl as he awaited the answer.
"No, I didn't hurt them. They never even knew I was there. They were busy with something else." The war with the nymphs? Jewel wondered. She didn't mention it to Darius. Not yet.
Two darks brows slashed upward. "You must be a fine warrior, then," Darius said.
"I am," Gray answered.
"Did anyone else enter with you?"
"No, just me."
"What about after you?"
"No one that I know of."
"I knew better than to send such an army of hatchlings," the dragon king muttered, "but I had to give Kendrick a chance to lead."
"Enough." Grace kissed his cheek. "We can deal with Kendrick and the other portal later. Right now we need to discuss vampires and demons and this sense of doom Jewel has."
"I do not know what they are planning," Jewel stated. "Yet."
"You will find out." A demand, not a request.
Gray shook his head. "If she has to do anything dangerous, the answer is no."
"Nothing dangerous," she promised. "Just exhausting." Without another word, she closed her eyes and blanketed her mind, ignoring everything around her.
Gray watched her, ready to spring to the rescue if she even grimaced. Her features began to relax, her breathing evened out, steady, but slow. Too slow. Several moments passed in surreal expectation. And then she spoke, her voice layered with other voices, the sound eerie. Like a legion of ghosts. In the same way she'd spoken to him when they'd been chased by the Mers.
"Your enemies hide in the forest, making their way to the border of your land. In three days, they will sneak inside this palace. The demons will attack first, your fire unable to hurt them. While you are distracted with them, the vampires will move through the shadows and conquer the caves beneath us."
Darius's jaw twitched once, twice. "Do they know we possess Dunamis?" "Not at this time."
"How can I stop them? How can I prevent this from happening?"
Her expression never wavered, and she continued in that odd voice. "You must attack first. When the third morning dawns, fly into the forest and surround them, then quickly close on their ranks with fire and ice."
"I don't understand." The dragon king shoved to his feet and paced. "How do I use both fire and ice?"
My God, Gray thought. This was exactly why men fought for this woman. Why she was so dangerous in the wrong hands. She could outline an enemy's entire battle plan - and exactly how to defeat it. He'd known, even glimpsed it before, but this...
If anyone on the surface discovered Dunamis was actually a woman, greedy human hands would always be reaching for her. Hunting her. Like she was hunted here, but worse.
Finding out he couldn't take her to the surface with him because she was physically bound to Atlantis had been a blow he had yet to recover from. Watching her in action was yet another blow, driving home the fact that she would never be safe, no matter where she resided.
"While the dragons breathe fire, the human must use ice."
Darius's hard blue gaze flicked to Gray. "Do you have ice?"
"No." He frowned in confusion.
Grace snapped her fingers, her eyes growing wide. "She means the fire extinguishers. The ones brought in from the last human invasion. The ones you have stored here, but your men can't use because dragons are weakened by cold."
Jewel slumped in her chair. Gray caught her and drew her limp body into his arms. "Sweetheart," he said. She didn't respond. Her eyes remained closed, her expression soft as if from sleep.
"I'm taking her to the room," he said, concern overriding all else. "She's had enough."
Darius nodded. "Will you help us, human? Will you carry the ice when we attack?"
He didn't have time. He needed to get home. But the thought of three more days - and nights - with Jewel was an incentive he couldn't resist. "I have two conditions."
Darius arched a brow. "The first?"
"Jewel was desperate to search the Temple of Cronus for information about her father, but your men stopped us. Send someone to the ruins to search for anything she might find useful."
"Consider it done. The second?"
"When I leave, I want you to keep Jewel here. Keep her safe. You lost her before, and that - "
"Will not happen again. We are stronger now and no one, no one, can breach our walls. She will be safe with me."
Gray fought past a haze of fury and sadness and relief, and inclined his chin in acknowledgement of their deal. "Then consider me the Ice Man."
After Gray tucked a still sleeping Jewel into bed, smoothed her hair from her face, and placed a soft kiss on her lips, he gripped his transmitter and hunched over the edge of the bed. "Santa to Mother."
Several seconds passed in silence.
"Santa to Mother," he said again.
"Mother here. Has something happened to the package?"
"Package secure." He'd hand them the sapphire in his bag without a twinge of conscience.
Before he could tell his boss the reason for his call, Quinlin said, "Did you figure out that little riddle about the jewel being able to breathe?"
"It was buried under a mound of rocks." Lie. "I figure the text was referring to its lack of air." Bigger lie. "Makes sense."
Bringing them back to the business at hand, he said, "I wanted to let you know I'll be home later than planned."
Pause. "Should we send in a cleaning crew?"
"No." He ran a hand down his face. "I've got everything under control." God, when had he become such a liar? "Over."