Authors: Dee Carney
Oh well. It showed up when it counted.
Amused by her own disturbing, sex-laced concerns, her heart lifted a fraction and a smile threatened to form. She would see him again. She was sure of it, too.
It took only a few minutes to gather what gear she planned to take and locate the trail leading to the private beach area for the local hotel. Once there, she'd borrow a phone and make arrangements for her next moves. She'd need to replace her trusty steed as soon as the insurance money arrived, speak with her university contact and then once everything was settled, crawl into her bed for a month-long sleep.
After about a quarter mile of walking, she frowned. Lifting her head, she turned to face the beach and scanned the horizon. Had she really heard…
The wetsuit tumbled from her hands, but she didn't care. As if in a dream, Di ran toward the water, slowing once inside and only when the drag against her legs forced her to do so.
"You have it, Aphrodite," Danyl called when he broke from the waves again, his voice tremulous with excitement. A span of no more than ten feet separated them. "You have the key I seek!"
It had been a hunch. Just a niggle in the back of his neck. But thank the gods, he'd picked up the slate almost immediately upon locating it and tracked the key's location…
Right back to his goddess.
"We've got to put some clothes on you before someone sees," she muttered as they waded ashore.
Danyl didn't know about that. He'd gotten used to the slow crawl of her gaze on his body every time he approached her au natural. With every inch she took in, his body warmed in gradual waves, stopping when just short of combustion. Now that he'd also gotten used to this cock he'd been equipped with, he kind of liked its reaction too. The pulse of need, the lengthening and gentle ascent. He had to fight every urge to throw her down against the sand and plunge himself into her wetness again. What an amazing sensation!
Reason took over and he shook his head. "It doesn't matter because I'm heading back out as soon as you give the key to me. I'll be gone before anyone sees." She stiffened beside him and he grimaced. In retrospect, that sounded bad the way it came out. "Di, I need the key."
She guided them inland, stopping in between brush that would provide adequate cover on three sides. "I don't have a key, Danyl. I don't know what you're talking about."
"I've tracked it to you more than once. I thought it was on the boat, but when I just checked again, it tracks to you. Are you sure?"
She shifted her gaze away and asked softly, "What does it look like?"
Something about her look, her tone made him wary. "It's a flat disc. Etched with a face on one side, writing on the other. It's old and…" The way she crossed her arms, hugging herself, still unwilling to look him in the face was all too familiar. His goddess edged away, a complete turnabout from earlier. His voice dropped low and even he heard the anguish in it. "You know what I'm talking about now, don't you?"
"Why do you need it?" Challenge peppered every syllable in her question.
Before he could catch himself, he threw back, "Why do
Her eyes shone when she looked at him at last. "The coin is all I have," her voice grew bitter. "No job. No boat. No money. Just this coin."
"No family. No honor. No future. Just a key to regain a little bit—just a hint—of that back," he retorted, staring her down.
. Something inside him died with each second he stared into her water-filled eyes, but he couldn't back down. Not about this.
"But you still haven't said what you need it for." Her entire body shook.
His upper lip curled into a snarl. "To avenge my mother's death. To gain entry to where my father lives and kill him for murdering my mother. What could you possibly want it for?"
"To take back my life," she sobbed. "I have nothing without this coin. Can you understand that? Nothing!" The tears tracking down her cheeks ripped his heart from his chest.
Gods, they stood at an impasse. He couldn't move on without the damned key and obviously, neither could she. Unclenching his jaw, he pushed back mounting anger and frustration. Her body was rigid when he pulled her into his embrace. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm sorry. We'll work it out."
When she unfolded her arms and wrapped them around his waist in return, he released a relieved breath. They rocked together, holding each other tight, until at last his roiling anger settled and he could talk to her without attacking like a shark after blood. Di ceased trembling a few minutes later.
"What you said is horrible, Danyl. Are you sure it's him? Will you really kill your father?"
He glanced over his shoulder at the sun that had long since risen above the horizon.
Soon enough, people would be wandering the beach and just as she'd stated, someone would see. He had to convince her to hand over the key quickly. "He murdered my mother for having me. And I'm the only one who cares enough to avenge her, Di. He's a very powerful being and where he lives is inaccessible normally. But with that key…"
"Is he powerful enough to kill you, instead?"
He should have known she would ask. "Yes. Perhaps if I'm not fast enough, not smart enough, he'll destroy me long before I get the chance to kill him."
"Danyl," she gasped, "you sound like you accept that." She shook her head. "No, like you
"I have to leave before someone sees, Di."
"The sun is up and people will be coming soon."
She pushed away and bore into him with her piercing gaze. "Even if I could forget about my situation, I am not going to stand here and hand you the key to your death. I won't."
Her green eyes brimmed with concern.
. That recognition was enough to make him stop breathing from stunned joy. Gods, could he really dare to dream, to hope, that the life he once dreaded living might instead forever include her? Because if it did, an early death no longer called to him as it once did.
"What if I gave you a promise, a guarantee, would that satisfy you? If I could borrow the coin, as you call it, from you and then give it back to you when I'm done, we would both get what we want." Once he handed over the key, he wouldn't be able to give her back this one, but others like it had to exist. He'd make sure he led her to them. That assumed, of course, he made it out alive. He couldn't be certain of course, but he'd do his damnedest to try. It would have to be enough.
She regarded him suspiciously, her head cocked. "You wouldn't take any unnecessary risks? You would … wait, how can you guarantee me something like that?"
There was no way she would make this easy. He recognized that now. "It's all I have to offer. My word."
"Which doesn't matter if you're dead, you idiot!"
Another impasse. Did other men have such a hard time reasoning with their mate?
The thought startled him. Mate? When had Di gone from being that beautiful human to
Di planted her feet into the ground and balanced her fists on either side of her hips.
Looking him dead center in his eyes, she said, "If you want this key, Danyl, the only way you'll get it is if you have someone to watch your back going with you. And that someone, baby, is gonna be me."
Nothing he said would sway her. Even now, she stood balancing on one leg as she slipped the other into the wetsuit. How in Hades had it gotten to this point? Danyl wanted to scream with frustration. Instead, he paced the beach, cursing under his breath.
Gods, it would take everything he had to keep her safe when he sought Ancelin, but the infuriating woman barged right into the danger with her eyes wide open. Whether he liked it or not, he would have to make sure he survived this trip. Her life depended on it.
His curt nod was all the response he could muster without starting an argument all over again. Why would she do this?
For heavens' sake, look at the preparations she had to go through. He hated that she needed to outfit herself thusly, but the morning sun wouldn't have warmed the ocean enough yet. Then again, her preparations also meant one less thing they had to worry about in their travels. He'd already explained that the underwater cave, the passageway to the underworld, sloped up until they would be able to walk above ground with ease.
Closer to the top, the water would be tolerable for her to swim in, if not altogether pleasant. He only had to guide them there and then the hard part would begin.
She started forward, but stopped when she reached the water's edge and he wasn't beside her. "Danyl?"
He had one last chance to stop this madness. Danyl raced to her side and swept her into his arms. He stared at her lips, her beautiful full lips, and crushed his mouth to hers.
All of his frustration, all of his passion reverberated in that kiss. It was his last plea, his last hope that she would stay behind and let him handle his family's affairs by himself. It was his promise that he would return.
But Di wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Her lips parted, her tongue teasing between his to toy with his teeth before sliding over his tongue with equal fervor. And as he breathed in the sweetness that was her, he knew it was her winning play, her final say on the matter. It was her promise that she would stay by his side, no matter what the consequence.
A catcall in the distance cleared his fuzzy mind as he began to lose himself in that kiss. They still stood on a public beach and his nudity wouldn't be appreciated by others.
Especially now with his arousal on proud display.
With a final groan of resignation, he pulled away and slipped his hand in hers. "Let's go, goddess. Let's go find my father."
* * * *
Right now, her thoughts revolved around the merman swimming at her side.
She'd forgotten to ask him about mer-people and how he knew the English language.
Every time he left, she reprimanded herself for forgetting to ask about his legs and his ability to change his tail. She'd meant to ask about his life, his family … everything. The moment he appeared, however, none of those things mattered any more. She wanted to bask in whatever time they had together.
Now she was accompanying him on some crazy quest to avenge his mother and on any other day she might have chastised herself for agreeing to go along. Today though, she couldn't think of another place she would rather be. She had no family; her friends could be counted on a single hand. Her life centered around one stupid little coin, but so did his.
He swam much faster this time, and everything whirred by. At one point, she closed her eyes, and luxuriated in the magical pull of the water as they sliced through it, hand in hand. Soon, they dove deep and she forced herself to focus on their surroundings when he changed their position to ascending. She couldn't see shit. Just blackness on all sides.
Danyl tightened his hand around hers and the little flurries of fear that tripped her heart ebbed somewhat.
They broke the surface, but instead of the light she'd assumed would be there, more darkness greeted them.
He laid her hands on a ledge. "I'll create some light for you. Stay here." A loud crack sounded a moment later and she had to squint against the flare.
"What is that?" Now able to see where she was going, Di hauled herself over the ledge. Despite the use of the oxygen tank, her chest rose and fell quickly. She only now realized the exertion, and subsequent fatigue, of travelling next to him. Danyl, on the other hand, didn't seem the least bit fazed.
"I think you call it quartz. When rubbed together, it produces a little bit of light.
Wrapped in a solastine casing, the property intensifies to what you see now. If it starts to dim, you only need shake it and it'll light up again."
"I've never heard of solastine," she murmured, eyeing the light source. "Amazing."
She held up the light and scanned the cave. It was nondescript and really looked like every other cave she'd ever ventured into. Stalagmites, stalactites and little streams of trickling water decorated the ceiling and ground. If she tried to peer into corners, tiny creatures with multiple sets of legs scurried away. The air smelled and tasted damp. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but still not one she wanted to linger in if at all possible.
Beneath her feet, sand crunched and shifted.
"Let's get moving, goddess. When we've completed this task, I'll show you sights of the ocean that you've never before witnessed, I promise you."
Her pulse surged a little at that. "Lead the way."
About fifty yards in, they stopped before a large stone face, apparently the end of the cave. She held the light up, shaking the little device harder to see if it would stretch to the reaches of the corners, to no avail.
"We're here," he said softly to her unspoken question.
Question was, here where?
"Charon!" Danyl bellowed. He called that name twice more and waited. She thought she recognized the name, but couldn't place her finger on where she knew it from.
The last thing in the world she expected to see was the wall slide open like two elevator doors to reveal another cave, this one darker and more terrifying than the one in which they stood. The even greater difference flowed down its center.
Still, Danyl reacted to the river that abruptly halted at their feet as if bored. Arms crossed over his chest, he stared into the darkness. Di took the time to drop the oxygen cylinder from her back, but kept the wetsuit and accompanying booties in place. If they had to leave in a hurry, the fewer items she had to put on, the better.
. She knew that name. She was sure of it. "Danyl, who is Charon? I feel like I should know, but it escapes me now."
It could have been a play of the light, but his enigmatic silver eyes turned stormy. A shadow hung over his fine features and for the first time, she realized how determined he was about completing his quest.