"I don't understand what this means," Jewel said.
It had been two days since the battle and Gray hadn't found the strength to leave her. So here he was, ensconced in the dragon palace, sitting atop the bed with Jewel while she studied broken, faded tablets the dragons had found at the ruined Temple of Cronus.
She'd spent all of last night fitting the small pieces together like a puzzle, working painstakingly through the long hours.
"Do you see these words?" She pointed to a line of jagged symbols.
She looked so lovely. Her hair tumbled down her back. Color bloomed bright in her cheeks, and her lips were lush and swollen from their recent loving. "I see them," he said.
"They say I am dragon."
He wasn't surprised. "You do have Darius's eyes."
"But here it says I'm vampire."
Brow furrowing, Gray sat up.
"And here it says I am Centaur. Here, a minotaur. Here, a Mer. Here, a nymph. Here - "
"I get the picture. Shit, baby, you're everything." How many times had he looked at her and thought she possessed certain qualities of the different races?
"I don't understand," she repeated.
"You're made up of every creature."
"That's... that's impossible."
"Ha! I've learned that nothing is impossible. What else does it say?"
"That I am the daughter of Cronus. Gray," she said, turning wide, shocked eyes to him. "He is king of the gods. Or he was until his son, Zeus, killed him and used his blood to make us." The last was said on a sad, broken gasp. "He's dead. My father is dead. But... how did I see him that day? He hugged me. He held me in his arms."
"Perhaps it wasn't your father who held you."
"Zeus," she said. "It was Zeus. My... brother. He told me he was sorry and I assumed he meant for ignoring me. But Zeus apologized for killing our father. How could I not have realized? It's so clear now." She rested her head on his shoulder, and he felt the warm liquid of her tears slide down his arm. "This is so hard. I expected so many things, but not that. Never that."
He hugged her to him for more than an hour, simply holding her and letting her cry. He whispered things into her ear, sweet things, loving things, all the things he wanted her to know but would never have another chance to tell her.
When her tears died, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut. I have to leave. His chest constricted. Now everything was complete. She knew about her past, her greatest enemies were defeated, and she was safe. It was time to tell her goodbye. How he would have loved to spend his life beside her, making her forget her sadness about her father. Comforting her. Simply loving her.
He must have stiffened or stopped breathing because she suddenly pulled from his touch, not looking his way. "You're leaving now."
How could he live without this woman? She was everything to him, and he wasn't complete without her. But he forced himself to say, "I have to."
Her gaze remained straight ahead. "Take me with you."
"Stay here, then."
If only he could. "I've got to leave. I won't let you be hunted by another agent. I can't." "Come back to me."
He cupped her jaw and lightly kissed her lips. He felt ripped apart inside. She possessed his heart. To save her, however, he would do whatever was necessary. Even leave her. "I'm going to close the portal, baby. I'm going to make sure no one else ever enters it."
And then, before she could say another word, he made love to her one final time, moving in and out of her slowly, savoring everything about her. Her taste. Her scent. Her feel. Branding her essence in his every cell. Afterward, when she fell asleep, he quietly dressed. His stomach felt like a lead weight had taken up residence, churning with nausea.
Forcing his feet one in front of the other, he walked from the room. Tears filled his eyes. He hadn't cried since his mom died, but he cried now. And he wasn't ashamed of his tears. "Goodbye, Pru," he whispered, and it almost killed him to say it.
He didn't allow himself to look back as he hunted down Darius. The dragon king was waiting for him and escorted him to the portal. Gray stepped inside.
Surprisingly the portal he exited did not take him to the same location he'd entered from. Gray found himself in Brazil. OBI didn't know about this portal, and he planned to keep it that way. For days he worked furiously, blocking the portal entrance with rocks. Afterward, he sneaked his way to Florida and radioed home base to be picked up. When they reached him, he handed his boss the huge sapphire he'd stolen from Darius's wall and with a straight, deadpan expression said it was Dunamis.
They asked him about his mission, and he lied. They asked how he'd gotten past the guards at the portal, and he lied about that, too. Hooked to a lie detector, he lied his ass off. And he passed. He told them of the monsters, just to keep them from sending someone else inside. But he mentioned nothing about Jewel, nothing about the vast wealth, and nothing about his new vampire tendencies.
They were so excited about Dunamis, they sent him on his merry way, giving him the vacation he'd been due for the past year.
His vacation sucked. He never left his house. And now, two weeks into it, he was standing in his basement gym, pounding the hell out of his punching bag.
He had no life without Jewel. Hell, he didn't want a life without her. What was she doing? Was she safe? Did she miss him? Did she spend every night lying awake, imagining his hands on her, wishing his lips were all over her?
"What's wrong with you, man?"
Gray stiffened. He pounded a few more punches into the bag. His brothers had descended upon him en masse this morning and refused to leave. "Nothing," he growled. It was the same answer he'd given them the other thousand times they'd asked.
They kept at it, though, and several times he'd come close to biting them. He thought his eyes might have turned red once because his brothers had also asked him - a thousand times - if he needed to see a doctor. He still craved blood, yes, but only Jewel's. Only her sweetness.
At least he hadn't levitated. Wouldn't that have been fun to explain? He'd wondered a few times why he hadn't weakened since leaving Atlantis, since he now possessed some very Atlantean characteristics, but the only answer he could come up with was that he had been born a human and his greatest ties were here.
"I believe you," Nick said. He glanced to Erik. "Do you believe him?" "I think it's woman trouble."
"Gotta be," Denver said. "Nothing else could shake him like this." "Shut the fuck up."
"Well, finally he says something other than nothing."
Gray couldn't tell them. They knew nothing about OBI. As much as he wanted to describe every detail about Jewel's loveliness, he couldn't.
God, he had to get her back.
He rested his forehead on the punching bag. He'd meant to do something, anything, to block the portal in Florida but he hadn't been able to do it. Maybe he hadn't tried. He hadn't wanted to sever that final tie with Jewel and destroy all hope of ever seeing her again.
The second day he'd been home he found a rock with her picture on it inside his bag and had punched a hole in his wall. He'd been so filled with longing he'd almost torn his entire house down.
Screw it, he thought in the next instant. He'd had enough of this torture. He was going back in. He was going back to Jewel. OBI didn't know about the portal in Brazil; maybe he could find it again. He'd have to be careful, though. They kept a close watch on their employees, always cautious of leaks.
If he did this, if he went this route, he'd have to say goodbye to his family forever. Could he? For Jewel, he'd give up everything. I'm going to do it. I'm going back to her. He smiled for the first time since returning.
"Will you look at that?" Nick said. "What caused the change?"
He was just about to answer when a wild-haired seductress burst into his gym.
"Gray James," she said, black hair flying behind her. "I've been here for two weeks and survived. I can live on the surface." She saw his brothers, smiled at them weakly, and muttered, "Hello," before whipping her focus back to Gray. "Now what do you have to say to that?"
His knees almost buckled as shock pounded through him. Was this a hallucination? "Jewel?" Heart pounding, he raced to her and jerked her into his arms, closing his eyes as her scent surrounded him. God, she was real. "What do you think you're doing? You should never have risked your life like that." He was unable to put any heat behind the admonishment.
"I told you," Erik murmured.
Before she could answer, Gray slathered her face with kisses, happier in that moment than he'd ever been. Praise the Lord for women who rebelled. "I was coming for you, sweetheart. I couldn't stay away from you." More kisses. "Now, you have a lot of explaining to do. Where have you been staying? Why didn't you weaken?"
"I sneaked through the portal and followed you here. Darius realized what I had done and found me. He took me into the nearest town and rented me a room. He checked on me every couple of days but I never weakened, so he finally transported me here." She paused for breath. "I'm part of every creature, which makes me part human and must allow me to exist on the surface. And this human wants to be with you."
His lips slowly inched upward. How he loved this woman. "How did you follow me without my knowledge?"
"How do you think? I finally used my powers for something I wanted."
His brothers were muttering about the weirdness of the conversation. Humans? Transported? Powers? They didn't know their brother-in-law was an alien, either. Gray would have a lot of explaining to do later, but for right now, he had Jewel and that was all that mattered.
"Marry me." It wasn't an order, but it was pretty damn close. It was a prayer.
"You mean it?" Squealing, she jumped up and wrapped her legs around his waist. "Yes, yes, yes! I love You."
"And I love you, Jewel, Prudence, Blaze."
"That's Mrs. General Happy to you."
He chuckled. "How about Jewel of Atlantis, Jewel of my heart?"