Authors: Molly E. Lee
“Easton,” I whispered.
His eyes opened instantly, but he didn’t move. “Yeah?”
“While I appreciate the chivalry, that looks terribly uncomfortable.” I eyed the hard floor beneath him.
“Suit yourself. If you figure out that you’re an adult and want to sleep up here, this a huge king-size bed, and I promise to keep my hands to myself.” I flipped over and scooted to the farthest side, throwing the comforter over me and closing my heavy lids, mentally counting to ten.
At eight the comforter shifted and the mattress bowed underneath Easton’s weight. My heart raced, and I smiled. Still predictable, my Easton.
I turned to face him after he’d flicked off the light. The contours of his face and his gorgeous eyes were still visible, and I tucked my hands under the left side of my face.
“This feels like the summer we went to Rome for the first time.” My voice was breathless, though I’d only tried to whisper.
“You made us stop at each gelato place we passed.”
“And you wouldn’t shut up about the Colosseum.”
“It happens to be one of the coolest relics in history.”
I shrugged. “Not as cool as the Parthenon.”
“Age hasn’t made you wiser, has it?”
Without thinking, I smacked him lightly on his bare arm. The touch sent shockwaves through my core, and memories flooded my mind.
Stolen kisses during our trips, tucked away in back alleys, deep forests, or snowbanks—anywhere we could elude my parents’ eyes. Though, as it turned out, they never
know we were an item. They gave us our space to fall in love, because that’s the type of parents they were, and Dad loved Easton. He was the son-in-law he would’ve wanted.
I sucked in a sharp breath and drew my hand back.
He sighed and turned over, staring at the ceiling. “That was the first trip your folks gave us our own room.”
And the first night I’d given myself to him completely. We’d spent the day exploring Rome, absorbing the culture, the rich history, and the local flavors, including several glasses of wine my dad had insisted we try. I’d been seventeen, and it was one of my favorite trips—both because it’d been such a wonderful time spending it with my family, my father—and because Easton and I had taken our passions to the next level. He’d loved me. I’d never doubted that. Not when I gave myself to him that night in our hotel room, slightly buzzed off the wine and the sheer power of the city, and not when he’d left for the last expedition my father ever took. I just didn’t have a clue when he’d stopped.
“Funny, looking back now. I thought we were so grown up. We were just kids,” I said, and a piece of me wished we were young again, wished we could have another shot. It’d been so easy with him. The trust between us had developed from years of friendship before we’d realized we were in love. And when we came together . . . it was electric. Every single relationship I’d had since—serious or brief—hadn’t compared. Couldn’t. Not when Easton had known me better than anyone else in the world, known my dreams, what made me cringe and what made my eyes roll back in my head.
“I still feel like that kid, sometimes.” Easton’s voice soothed me even after all these years. I was certain that if he’d pick up a book and read to me like he used to, it would feel so familiar, like no time had passed at all.
But it had. And we were different people now. Or, at least I was. I didn’t have a clue who Easton had turned into, and I kind of hated how much I looked forward to finding out, even if it was only for this brief two-week job. I had no delusions we’d make working together, or even checking in sporadically, a regular thing. If reconnecting had been in the cards, it would have happened already.
“You don’t look like the boy I knew.”
“I filled out a bit.”
“I liked your body then.”
“And you don’t now?” He turned his head to look at me, and a blush swept across my skin. Thank God the lights were off.
“Eh.” I laughed, and he joined in.
In my exhaustion, flooded with too many memories and the scent of Easton, I nearly reached over and pulled him to me. The last sane piece of my brain refused to allow the motion, and I closed my heavy eyes.
Too familiar. Too easy to slip. I had to focus. Remember how he left me and my mom to bury an empty casket alone. Remember the years I’d been absolutely fine without him. I continued to repeat these things to myself as sleep laid over me like a heavy blanket.
I heard Easton whisper, “Night, Raindrop,” before I fell asleep completely.
After a breakfast—which was technically dinnertime—Easton caught us a cab and had it take us to a dive bar in the heart of the city.
“What reason could we possibly have for coming here?” I asked as he held the establishment’s door open for me. The place was small, packed with people, and held the scent of strong, sour liquor.
“We need a car, and there’s a guy here who owes me a favor.” Easton weaved his way through patrons, holding on to my hand the entire way. I let him, more because I didn’t want to lose him among the noisy bar-goers than of need for his protection. I’d been to far seedier places than this during my own travels in search of the best food, or the best connections to the areas in which I sought out the animals I photographed. Some of the species were endangered, others hunted ruthlessly by poachers, or both, and more often than not my journeys took me to the location’s underbelly.
Not every woman wore a veil here, especially tourists, but I still let my long, blond hair frame my face and tried not to look anyone in the eye. I didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to my outsider status if I could help it.
“Calev, how the hell are you?” Easton asked as we squeezed our way to the bar.
An almond-skinned man with a bushy, black beard grinned a wide, toothy smile. “Wells! You son of a bitch! Finally here to collect, I gather?” His English was surprisingly well-defined, his accent only hitting the ends of the letters.
“You knew I’d be back.”
Calev poured a dark liquid into two shot glasses, sliding one to Easton and raising the other. They clinked their glasses before throwing back the shot. “I wondered how long it would take you. It’s been nearly four years, yes?”
Calev glanced over to me, practically hugging Easton’s shoulder from lack of space. “Who is your friend?”
“This is Rain. Harrison Walker’s daughter.”
A few of the locals drinking at the bar grew silent at Easton’s mention of my dad’s name, and I tried my best not to give them a
what’s your problem
look. Most of them quickly turned back to their shots, but some shamelessly stared at Easton and me like they wanted to set us on fire. A handful of men shifted in their seats, their shoulders tensing as they glanced between Easton and Calev. I squeezed Easton’s hand hard enough to let him know we were not wanted here.
He ignored me.
Calev leaned over the bar, bringing his head close to Easton’s. “You looking for trouble, my old friend?”
Easton shook his head. “Nope. Just a four by four.”
Calev cut his eyes to the bearded men who hadn’t stopped giving us murderous stares and nodded. “Quickly. I’ll bring it around front, yes?”
“Whatever works for you, friend.” Easton pushed back from the bar and led me outside.
We stopped just shy of the street, dodging the city’s night crowd who trekked up and down the sidewalk.
“What the hell, Easton?” I jerked my hand from him.
“We couldn’t have just rented a car like normal people? You had to go to a place filled with locals who despise my father?” Though it’d been ten years, Dad’s name—and anyone tied to it—evoked a bitter rage in certain locals. Dad had spent decades of his life unearthing artifacts in Israel, and while some loved him for his discoveries, there were those who wanted him banished from ever returning for it.
Easton pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t have use for a small, poorly maintained vehicle. I need something that can withstand the terrain we’re about to travel, plus be reliable. Where we’re going, it’d be a big fucking problem if it broke down. And they don’t all despise your father. Calev loved him.”
may have, but there are more than a handful of locals who were happy when Dad died.” I sucked in a sharp breath. The sting
went away. I swallowed hard, composing myself. “As an outsider who unearthed as much history as he did here? I get it, but that doesn’t mean I want to flaunt it.”
He took a step closer. “The Rain I knew never let fear control her movements.”
I gripped the straps of my favorite pack. “I’m not scared. I’m
. And stirring up trouble with the locals is definitely
“We’re fine. Trust me.”
My eyes zeroed in on the crew exiting the bar behind him, and I arched my head to the sky. “We’ll see about that.” I used to love the confidence that came naturally to Easton, hell it still drew me to him even now, but I’d hoped the years had helped him find a balance as to when and where to use it.
“Easton Wells.” The tone from the man who headed up the group of six was sharp and clipped. “Thought we told you to never return here.”
“You don’t have any authority over me, or the country for that matter.” Easton unsuccessfully tried to shield me from the men.
“Truth. I had hoped you wouldn’t wish to disturb the peace we’ve held here for quite some time now.”
It was then that it clicked. Who they were. I didn’t know the proper Hebrew word for the group’s name, but to treasure hunters like my father, like Easton, they were known as
I’d been educated on the underground group since my father started telling me stories about King Solomon’s treasure—the treasure of his dreams. Members did everything they could, inside and outside the law, to keep foreigners from excavating their country and laying claim to anything they found. To the group, all artifacts belonged to Israel, or God. Not to treasure hunters seeking fame and fortune.
were supported by local authorities, and the absolute last people we wanted to piss off.
Dad had a bad run-in with them once when he’d donated an ancient set of tools and clay pots to a museum in the States as opposed to keeping the fruits of the find in Israel. They’d never stopped trying to trip up his efforts when he traveled back here, even after Dad had agreed to never taking artifacts out of the country again. I remembered thinking it would be so much easier—and quite possibly have a higher find rate on dig sites—if they all worked together toward the end goal. Maybe I could convince them of that here.
“I don’t disturb—”
“Your little discovery as a kid caused an increase in treasure-hunter traffic!” The man cut Easton off, putting mere inches of space between them. “So many came and tore into our caves, mountains, whatever they could drive a pickaxe into. All you do is destroy. Or claim what isn’t yours. You have no business bringing your cameras here and ruining the land in search of something that never belonged to your people!”
“My people? Like it belonged to yours? Give me a break! Thousands of years have passed between then and now. Odds are my bloodline is as close to the people of that time as yours is.”
“How dare you question my blood, you vile, disrespectful—”
I pushed past Easton and placed myself between the two fuming men, my hands raised with what I prayed was an apologetic look on my face.
“Please. We aren’t here for trouble.” My Hebrew was a little rusty, but the words came clear enough from my tongue.
“We’re here to discover, document, and preserve only. The respect of your land, and the artifacts within it, are of great importance to us.”
The man sighed and took a step back. His eyes trailed me up and down before cutting to Easton. “He has no respect for anything that isn’t green,” he said in perfect Hebrew.
I shook my head, placing my hand over the center of my chest. “You misjudge his intentions. He never accepts a profit for his finds, and consistently donates to museums and charities.” I glanced at Easton quickly before returning my focus to the man. “Please, we’ve traveled a great distance to explore your glorious country. If he unearths anything, the Israel Antiquities Authority will be the first to know.”
The man held my gaze, and I didn’t dare blink. The tension was wire tight, one wrong word or move and the situation would snap. If a fight erupted out here, it could go from bad to worse, and bystanders wouldn’t bat an eye.
“You have my word,”
I added after he’d remained silent for too many breaths.
He jerked his head in the direction of the bar. The men flanking him nodded once and moved back inside. “For your sake, I pray you do not speak lies.”
He snarled at Easton before he reentered the bar.
“When the hell did you learn how to speak Hebrew?” Easton asked as I met his eyes.
I rubbed my palms over my face. The adrenaline making my limbs shake. “Seriously? That’s what you take out of the situation?”
He shifted his weight. “Thank you?”
“That’s better.” I gave him a small smile. “There are some things that are better handled with respect and knowledge. You’d be surprised how far the two can take you.”