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Atlantis Unmasked

Atlantis Unmasked
Warriors of Poseidon -- Book 4 -- Berkley Sensation
July, 2009 -- ISBN: 0425223221

Poseidon’s warriors swore an oath eleven thousand years ago to protect humanity from those who stalked the night. Yet when a woman with an ancient Gift dares to claim the heart of one of Poseidon’s fiercest warriors, the world teeters on the knife’s edge between desire and darkness . . .

A warrior scarred…
Alexios survived two years of unspeakable torture at the hands of a vampire goddess. Now he’s been ordered to team up with a beautiful warrior and take on the most dangerous mission of his life: to retrieve the Vampire’s Bane. Without it, Atlantis can’t ascend to the surface and take its rightful place in the world. But when evil threatens, will Alexios be led by duty—or his heart?

A descendant of Diana…
Grace is part of the rebellion against the vampires and shape-shifters trying to take over her world. She is deadly with her bow, because when she takes aim, she never misses her target. But suddenly she’s focused on a damaged Atlantean warrior who sees her as a weapon, not as a woman. When thousands of lives are on the line, will passion overrule, or will her aim still be true?

When two worlds collide…Atlantis is unmasked.

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excerpt

Chapter 1

Leaving regional rebel headquarters, St. Louis

"It's almost impossible to shoot a bow while driving."

Grace Havilland clenched her fingers around the steering wheel of the Jeep and waited for the Atlantean warrior riding shotgun to respond to what she thought had been her very reasonable point.

Waited. Waited a little longer. She'd met Alexios months ago and seen him sporadically since, but she'd never been in such a small space with him. It felt like being trapped in a cage with a lion who'd just eaten a full meal. Deadly, dangerous, and exhilarating, but maybe-just maybe-you'd live through it.

Unless he suddenly felt like a snack.

She wrenched the wheel to the left when she saw the deceptive DEAD END sign appear in the headlights and then took the deserted side street. Alexios finally turned to face her, his golden hair brushing the tops of his shoulders and sweeping forward to hide the scarred left side of his face. Reinforcing the lion imagery so strongly she flinched a little.

He raised a single eyebrow.

"The sign keeps people out," she explained. "HQ escape route and a shortcut to the hospital. Since we're a little behind everyone else, I wanted to catch up."

A weak but warm voice floated up from the backseat. "Shortcut would be good."

"How are you doing, Michelle?" Grace asked, not daring to look over her shoulder at this rate of speed.

"Well enough, considering that nasty vampire nearly ripped my head from my neck. Lucky for me that your dishy Alaric popped in with the magic healing powers. My first mission with you Americans and the rebel headquarters gets attacked. Bit of a bad penny, me."

Alexios made a strangled snorting sound. "Dishy Alaric. Now there's something I bet he's never heard in his nearly five hundred years. Alaric, the dishy high priest of Poseidon's Temple." In spite of the rich, dark amusement in his voice, he never once quit scanning every inch of the deserted street as they raced through it. Always on guard. Always alert.

A warrior in every facet of his being.

Grace slanted a glance at him. Six feet and a few inches of pure, primitive male, all hard lines and curved muscle. He'd fought like an avenging angel back at HQ when their strategy meeting had been viciously destroyed by the wave of vampires and shifters crashing through doors and windows in a multipronged attack. She'd loosed arrow after arrow, each one finding its target, as always, but Alexios and his sword and daggers were everywhere at once, stabbing, slicing, and slashing. All the while, his expression had remained utterly calm and controlled. Even as he'd circled around her, ripping heads from vamps and . . .

A realization seared through the memory. Always around her. He'd fought in a perimeter around her, leaving her room to shoot her bow, but never straying far from her side. Anger started a slow burn.

"Were you protecting me in that fight?" she asked, slowly and carefully, trying to put a lid on her temper. Not good to accuse and attack the fierce warrior ally unless it was true. "Because you know that I don't need protecting. I've been doing this for a long--"

Michelle made a loud shushing noise. "Oh, let's not get our knickers in a twist. So, Alexios. You don't look a day over thirty. But if Alaric is nearly five hundred years old, how about you?"

Alexios's dark gaze touched Grace's face for an instant, hot, predatory, tangible as a caress, before returning to vigilance. She wondered if his eyes were blue or black or one of the many shades of jewel-like green, but couldn't tell in the dark interior of the vehicle. Atlantean eyes were like mood rings. Unfortunately, they didn't give out the handy decoder chart.

"How about me, what?" he finally answered Michelle.

"How many centuries?"

"A little more than four. Grace, watch that hole in the road."

She swerved to miss the pothole and began to slow for the end of the road and the busy intersection it dumped into. "You're more than four hundred years old? Really?" Okay, maybe a man that old had a few preconceived notions about fragile females that could be forgiven.

"Well, you look lovely for your age," Michelle called out. "He's maybe a little old for you, Grace, though. You've only just turned twenty-five, after all."

Heat burned through Grace's cheeks. "What? Michelle, I--"

Before she could stammer out any convincing denials, on the order of, "No, I wasn't casting Alexios in my own personal fantasy," the man himself pointed his gun directly at her head.

She slammed on the brakes, too stunned to react coherently. Alexios and the Atlanteans were allies to the rebel cause, they wouldn't . . .

"On the left, Grace. Get down!"

Instinctively, she obeyed the tone of command in his voice and ducked, covering her head with her arms. The explosion of sound and glass tore through the Jeep a split second later, and Michelle screamed.

Over Grace's head, Alexios unloaded the Glock she'd loaned him when he'd realized his daggers and sword wouldn't be of much use in a moving vehicle. He spat forth a stream of words that absolutely had to be Atlantean cursing; she'd fought with warriors for enough years to recognize the cadence. If the Ice King of Calm was swearing, it had to be bad.

The realization brought her to a snap decision of her own. Grace wrenched the parking brake up, released her seat belt, and threw herself underneath his arms in a twisting half turn toward the backseat. Alexios slammed his hard chest down on her back, though, capturing her in a contorted embrace.

"No. If you lift your head, the attacker on the roof of that building is going to shoot you," he breathed in her ear.

"I need to get to Michelle. Now."

"I will not lose you," he said as he slowly pulled away. The words were so quiet that she nearly missed them. She snapped her head to the left and found his face a breath away from her own. Fury rode the high cheekbones and hard angles of his face. "I'm going out there," he said. "When I give the signal, you put this vehicle in gear and get the hells out of here."

He dropped the empty gun on the floorboard and pulled his daggers out of their sheaths. The movement was fluid and oddly slowed by strangely skewed perception; almost encapsulated in a bubble of time. She noticed the hairs on his tanned and muscled forearms were burnished gold, and she even had time to think it an odd observation to make before dying.

Then, in a move that made her wonder if somehow she'd gotten a head injury in the crash, Alexios simply disappeared. It wasn't sudden. It took maybe three or four seconds. But his body dissolved into a shimmering cascade of sparkling mist and, utterly transparent and nearly without shape, he soared through the open window beside her, leaving Grace with her mouth open in wonder and tiny water drops caught in her eyelashes.

"Oh dear. I think I may have died," Michelle said, moaning. "Either I just saw Alexios turn into an angel, or you and he are going to have some seriously interesting sex."

Stifling her ready retort, Grace resumed her crawl into the backseat to help Michelle, careful to keep her own head down. There was blood everywhere; the gunshot had smashed through the window next to Michelle and hit her shoulder. Glass glittered in her short dark hair, and shallow scratches bled on her forehead and cheeks.

"How bad?"

Michelle tried to smile, but it turned into a grimace. "I won't be wearing any sleeveless dresses for a while."

Grace's eyes burned. If she lost her best friend . . . "Damnit Michelle, quit with that British stiff-upper-lip crap. How bad?"

In the pale glow reflected from the streetlamp, Michelle's face was whiter than a St. Louis blizzard. "Maybe a little bad. It's just below my shoulder, but I'm starting to have a hard time breathing, and--" As if on cue, Michelle's sentence trailed off into a horrible wheezing gasp.

"It must have punctured your lung, oh, dear Lord and goddess help us, we've got to get out of here," Grace said, offering up prayers to Diana and to the Christian god. She snatched her bow and half-empty quiver from the back and pulled herself into the driver's seat, fitting arrow to bow with an ease born of long practice. She took aim through her open window and waited to deliver silver-tipped death.

She was a descendant of Diana, and her aim was always true.

"I'm going to get you to the hospital," she promised, scanning the area for Alexios or the attackers.

A dark shadow somersaulted through the air toward the Jeep, and she tracked it without thought, acting purely on instinct and natural talent.

"Didn't you have enough back at HQ, you bastards?" she screamed. "A dozen dead shifters and at least a half dozen dead vamps isn't enough? I'll kill every single one of you if she dies."

The shadow moved almost faster than her eye could follow until it materialized into a coalescing shimmer in the pool of light cast by the streetlamp. She eased the pressure of her fingers on the arrow.

Vamps didn't travel as mist. It was Alexios, transformed back into himself.

He bared his teeth and the expression on his face was so utterly feral-so inhumanly predatory-that Grace caught her breath, ice skating down her spine.

"Go. Now," he ordered. "I'll be right above you. Get her to the hospital. Now."

"You got them?"

"They won't hurt anyone else," he said. "Now go!"

Michelle's harsh wheezing fired Grace's urgency to do just that. She slammed the Jeep back into gear and, tires squealing, pulled out into the street and away from the remains of whatever had attacked them in the alley.

"Hang on, baby, hang on, please, please, Michelle, hang on," she pleaded in a constant demand and prayer, as she sped the remaining couple of miles to the hospital. Above the Jeep, matching her pace exactly, a soaring cloud of sparkling darkness watched over them.

She bumped over the curb at the entrance to the emergency room parking lot and pulled the Jeep right up to the door, ignoring signs and the shouts from the ambulance personnel standing around the large double doors. Grace leapt out, shouting for help, and raced around to open the back passenger door. Michelle slumped out into her arms, eyes wide and staring, and Grace instinctively screamed, so loud and long her throat burned, for the one person she needed more than she'd ever needed anyone.

"Alexios!"

"I am here." He lifted Michelle out of Grace's arms and began running for the ER doors. Emergency personnel met him with a gurney. He gently lowered Michelle onto it and backed away as the hospital personnel rushed Michelle inside, already snapping out competent-sounding medical speak.

Head lowered, Alexios returned to Grace and lifted her into his arms, holding her to him so tightly she almost felt-almost, for a fraction of a second-safe.

She saw one of her team approaching from the outside waiting area, and she put her hands flat on Alexios's chest to brace herself and push him away. For an instant, his eyes flared such a hot green that she wondered his gaze didn't burn the skin from her face. But then he slowly, inch by inch, lowered her to the ground and released her, almost as if he, too, were reluctant to break the contact.

"I can move the Jeep, Grace," Spike said. He'd been wounded by the first wave of shifters in the door, but the bandages wrapping both of his arms and the side of his face clearly hadn't slowed him down. "Everybody is already getting treatment. Most all of us are going to be fine. We'll hear about Hawk after surgery."

She nodded, glad to hear it but too drained to comment.

Spike's eyes narrowed, and he shot a suspicious look at Alexios. "We thought that dark-haired guy healed Michelle?"

"So he did," Alexios replied, his jaw clenching around the words. "We were ambushed."

Spike was instantly on the balls of his feet, hands hovering near his jacket, underneath which Grace knew he carried at least three guns and several knives. "How many? Do you want us to go after them?"

"They're taken care of," Grace said.

Alexios nodded. "There were only four." Any other man would have been boasting. Alexios merely stated facts.

A flash of respect crossed Spike's face. Grace wasn't the only one who'd seen Alexios in action; pretty much any everyone who had would follow him into any battle, anytime. She thought maybe Alexios wouldn't want her to mention the mist thing, though.

"Thanks for moving the car. We'll be . . . we'll be inside." She glanced up at Alexios, who started to put an arm around her but then hesitated, as if afraid of being rebuffed. She leaned into him, too tired and afraid for Michelle to force herself to stand alone, yet again.

Just this once, she would lean on someone else. Just this once.

###

St. Louis University Hospital, Emergency Room

Alexios looked around the crowded waiting room, remembering the countless times he or another of his fellow warriors had needed to be healed. Unlike the healing chambers in Atlantis, which were an oasis of serenity-all fresh air and sunlight, soft, silken cushions, and masses of flowers from the palace gardens-- this room where desperate and injured humans waited smelled of sweat, blood, antiseptic, and despair.

Grace huddled in an orange plastic chair, strangely diminished without her many weapons strapped to her body. He stood across the room from her, leaning against a battered vending machine, and tried to think of a time he'd seen her without them but came up empty. The bow, knives, and guns were part of her, oddly dissonant to her beauty and her name.

Grace. It suited her. She was grace in motion, in and out of battle. Except now, when she hunched in that ugly chair, arms wrapped around her knees, waiting for the bleakest kind of bad news.

After they'd removed their visible weapons, he'd helped her into the ER, trying not to wonder why something deep in his chest ached at the feel of her in his arms. Then she'd pulled away from him and collapsed into that chair, and she hadn't moved since. Alexios had wasted a good ten minutes convincing various hospital personnel that he didn't need to be treated for a head wound, after they'd caught sight of the apparently alarming amount of blood that remained in his hair and on the side of his face. He'd finally snarled something along the lines of "it's not my blood," and they'd backed off, all wary apprehension with a healthy dose of fear mixed in. Ever since then, he'd waited. And waited.

He despised waiting.

Hospital security was there in force, and the police were on their way. Luckily, Grace had excellent contacts within the local Paranormal Ops unit, and Alexios had met some of the officers before. He wasn't worried about the police. P Ops needed to be told about the attack, at any rate.

However, although he didn't want to examine the reasons why too closely, he was worried about Grace.

She'd somehow attached herself to him the first time he'd run a mission with the human rebels in St. Louis, adopting him as a mentor without bothering to ask his opinion of the idea.

He'd snarled at her to leave him alone. Repeatedly. When she'd simply fallen back and quietly continued to shadow him, he'd tried a different tactic and ignored her.

If he were honest with himself, he'd admit that he'd only pretended to ignore her. Grace was a hard woman to ignore. She was fiercely independent, dark eyes burning with quiet intensity and a dagger's-edged intellect. Slender, with firm, toned muscles, she was still an athlete, like she'd been as a child. An Olympic contender in swimming at only fifteen years old, Quinn had told him.

But a decade ago the world had changed, and Grace's world had collapsed beneath her. A band of female vamps, celebrating their newfound freedom when vampires and shifters had declared their presence to the world, had run across Grace's big brother in a bar. He hadn't survived the party.

Grace nearly hadn't survived his death.

They'd been alone in the world, their father gone when they were young and their mother dead from cancer not long before Grace lost her brother. Quinn said Grace had been broken. Lost.

But she'd found a purpose in fighting back. Spent the past ten years training for command in the rebel army. He'd seen her in battle, and she was good. Damn good. Her reflexes and strength were incredible for a human, and she was almost preternaturally lethal with her bow. But she'd been running on rage and adrenaline for a decade, and if Michelle died-Michelle, the only friend she had left from the innocence of her childhood-Grace was going to crash, hard.

Alexios had seen the signs in her. He knew it was coming. The only thing he couldn't figure out was if he wanted to be around when it happened. It was bound to be personal, that kind of emotional overload.

Too personal for an Atlantean warrior, sworn to the service of his prince and the sea god, who'd vowed to live his life free of even the most casual emotional attachments.

A doctor wearing bloodstained scrubs pushed through the doors to the waiting room and looked around expectantly. "Nichols? Michelle Nichols?"

The blood drained out of Grace's face, but she jumped up out of the chair. "Yes, that's me. I mean, I'm her friend. What happened? Is she okay?"

The doctor frowned, and Alexios started across the room. It wasn't news he wanted Grace to hear alone.

"She lost a lot of blood, and she had a collapsed lung," the doctor said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "I'm not going to lie to you. We did the best we could, and now we wait and see. If your friend's a fighter, she just might have a chance."

Grace stood, frozen, seemingly unable to speak. Alexios put an arm around her and shut down the part of his brain that wanted to think about how right she felt there. She was merely a soldier temporarily in his command, and it was his turn to stand for her.

"Thank you, Doctor," he said. "We'll wait for news."

The doctor nodded, barely glancing at Alexios, and then the man's head snapped up for the customary double take Alexios had grown so bitterly accustomed to over the years. "I hope you don't mind my professional curiosity, but how did you get that facial scarring? And have you ever considered cosmetic surgery?"

Alexios's eyes iced over as he regretted, once again, the fact that he couldn't just stab humans who had balls bigger than their brains. "Your concern is misplaced, Doctor, although I thank you for it," he gritted out, trying not to choke on the words.

Grace turned toward him and rested her head on his chest. It was the first sign of weakness she'd ever shown in his presence, and a wave of fierce protectiveness washed through him.

"I need some air," she murmured. "Please, Alexios, please help me. Get me out of here."

Alexios tightened his arms around her and nodded to the doctor. "Thank you again. We'll wait for any news, as I said."

Losing all interest in Alexios, the doctor started to move off, but then stopped, a trace of sympathy crossing his face. "She's going to be in the ICU for quite some time. You two should go get cleaned up and get some rest."

Nodding again, but not bothering to reply, Alexios steered Grace toward the exit. The doors opened with a hydraulic swishing noise, and the three men outside turned toward them, hands automatically reaching inside jackets. They relaxed slightly when they saw it was Alexios and Grace.

"All clear out here," said the stocky one who'd moved the Jeep for them. Spike, maybe. Or Butch. One of the odd names-that-weren't-names that the rebels used. "Any news?"

Grace shook her head, but didn't speak. Fine tremors shook through her body, and Alexios knew the meltdown was finally on its way.

"Almost everyone is doing well, as you said," Alexios reported tersely. "Michelle was in surgery a long time, though, and the doctor said she lost a lot of blood. He said she'll make it, if she's a fighter, and we all know that she is."

He addressed the words to the man, but they were meant for Grace. She drew in a shuddering breath, and he knew at least part of the meaning had penetrated.

"She's going to make it," he repeated. "But Grace needs some air. We're going to walk a little bit. You're sure the way is clear?"

The taller man, older, with leathery skin and a hawk-like nose, nodded. "We're good. We were sure with dark coming on that the vamps would start showing up, but we ain't seen hide nor hair of 'em. The boys are patrolling all the way around the hospital for the shifters, too."

Alexios nodded. "We won't go far."

He herded Grace down the sidewalk and away from the lights and sounds of the ER. She walked with a jerking, halting gait, like a marionette dancing on the strings of a drunken puppet master. When they reached a low stone wall, partially hidden by some bushes, he guided her to it. Then he sat next to her, his arms around her, and held her while she wept.

The sound of her sobbing-muffled because she tried to hide it from him-and the feel of her warmth as her body trembled in his arms overwhelmed the rock-solid defenses Alexios had carefully constructed over the past several years. He inhaled deeply, trying for control, but failing miserably when the scent of sunshine and flowers from her hair shuddered through his senses.

She was tough, a warrior woman. She never showed weakness to anyone-ever. And yet here she was, crying in his arms. Needing him to comfort her. The fierce drive to protect and cherish surged through him, and a tsunami of unexpected and unwanted emotion crashed through the barriers around his heart like a tidal wave through a fragile coral reef.

She turned her tear-drenched face up to his. "Alexios?"

There was only one choice he could make. Only one recourse open to him. He needed to taste her lips more than he had ever needed food or water or even air to breathe.

He kissed her.

He kissed her, and she gasped a little against his mouth, but then she was kissing him back. She was kissing him back. She twined her arms around his neck and pulled him closer to her and opened her mouth to his invasion, welcoming and enticing him.

Seducing him with her lips and warmth.

He groaned, or perhaps she did, but either way the sound was swallowed up in the heat between them, and he was tilting her head better to devour her, and kissing her and wanting her and needing her . . .

The red flashing light of an emergency vehicle splashed on the side of the building, at the furthest edge of his peripheral vision. A vision but not a vision. A memory but not a memory.

Flames.

The fires. The pain.

The torture.

He wrenched his mouth from Grace's and stared at the flashing light. Heart pumping. Muscles clenching.

Retreat! Escape! Kill them! Escape! Escape!

"Alexios?" She struggled in his arms, and he yanked her even closer, maddened that she would try to escape him.

"Alexios," she said, stronger now. "You're hurting me."

Somehow the words sank in past the memories. Past the waking nightmare.

There was no choice. There was only despair, and the death of hope, and an eternity of loneliness stretched out in front of him. They'd twisted him, and now he was broken. Wrong.

Alexios took the only honorable option available to him.

He left her there, bewildered and alone. Walked, then ran, then flew as mist through the air, desperate to escape. He never stopped, not even once, until he'd traveled all the way back to Atlantis. His throat burned with unspoken words; his eyes burned with unshed tears.

He ran, and he made yet another promise: he'd never allow himself to touch Grace again.

reviews

“As always, I loved this book. Each time I settle down to read about one of the warriors, I know I’m going to want more.”
– Naughty Edition Reviews

“I have been patiently awaiting Alexios’s story, and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. Ms. Day just has a way with these sexy warriors that leaves me breathless.”
– The Romance Readers Connection

“Day utilizes a nice blend of action, character building and sexy sensuality in all her books. A terrific escape from reality.”
Romantic Times

“As always, I loved this book. Each time I settle down to read about one of the warriors, I know I’m going to want more.”
Naughty Editions Books

“I have been patiently awaiting Alexios’s story and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. Ms. Day just has a way with these sexy warriors that leaves me breathless.”
The Romance Reader’s Connection

“There were tears, there was laughter, there were moments my heart soared and there were moments my heart feared for what was to come. . . I know what I will be doing on the next release day of a Warriors of Poseidon novel!”
Leontine’s Book Realm

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