Authors: Molly E. Lee
“Clearly.” A white four by four pulled up to the curb. Calev got out and tossed Easton the keys.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
Easton glanced down at me. “Think she may be the single best partner I’ve ever had on an expedition, even surpassing you. She has a supernatural gift over the
Calev’s eyes popped as he walked passed us. “Easton . . .” His tone held all the warning I wished Easton would register.
“We’ll be off now. Thanks for the ride.” Easton walked around to the driver’s side, and I climbed into the passenger seat. My window rolled down, and Easton leaned slightly over me to speak, the heat from his body sending a new set of trembles through my muscles. “And don’t worry. We won’t be back.”
Calev’s shoulders dropped. “Thank you, friend.”
“We’re even now,” Easton said, his eyes glancing over the interior of the vehicle.
Calev nodded before walking through the doors to the bar.
I cut my eyes to him. “What did you do for him?”
“Smuggled him in from the Syrian border where he’d been caught exploring a cave on their side.”
My lips parted, a gasp escaping. Easton cranked the engine before pulling out into the hectic, bumper-to-bumper traffic. I watched the spark in his eyes, something that had only ignited in the last few hours. We were about to embark on the hunts that had fueled his adrenaline-craving lifestyle for years, and I was in a hell of a lot of trouble—because that spark made my insides split in two. One side wanted to run back to the life I’d carved for myself in the wake of Easton’s departure, and the other side wanted to make room for a future with him I knew didn’t exist.
RAIN FUMED IN
silence the entire two-hour ride to Nev Ativ, and I damn sure wasn’t going to poke the bear. Thankfully, other than her stewing, the ride was uneventful—and since the road was so close to the ceasefire line between here and Syria, I would gladly take uneventful all day long. I pulled into one of the two hotels in the quaint little village, grabbing our bags out of the trunk.
“This is our last civilized living quarters for the next week, and the last decent food we’ll have access to, indulge while you can.” I eyed Rain as we walked inside to check in.
Her shoulders were stiff with tension, and I desperately wanted get my hands on them and massage the knots out for her. Not sure that would help the situation, but it’d be damn nice to see if she felt as soft and pliant against me as she’d used to.
The triangular roofs of the rooms—due to the amount of snow the village received from being this high up the mountain—gave the area a slight, fun-house feel. Rain set her pack down and rubbed the back of her neck, her eyes trailing me up and down.
“You should give me a rundown of what we have to expect on tomorrow’s journey.”
I pressed my lips together and nodded. “One condition.”
“Why does there have to be a condition regarding information crucial to the job?”
“Okay, a request.”
“Have dinner with me, and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.” She kept me hanging in silence for more breaths than I’d like to admit.
The ache in my chest told me just how desperately I wanted her to agree to spend some casual time with me, without those furious lines in her forehead. My stunt back at the bar had pissed her off, but I wasn’t used to having to worry about protecting anyone other than myself. I’d partnered with various other archeologists or survivalists over my career, but never to the point where I’d consider it an equal effort. We’d always gone our own ways, using the methods that had worked best for us in the past.
It was different with Rain. It always would be. And I didn’t know how I could have possibly thought I’d be able to separate the love I’d had for her and the job I needed her for now. There wasn’t a chance in hell I could ever view her as anything less than an equal partner in this effort, and in reality I knew she was a better person—in every possible way—than I’d ever be. She was brave, unselfish, compassionate, and fierce. I didn’t have a percentage of the passion for life that she did. It’s what had drawn me to her in the first place—after Harrison had stopped me hustling cheap goods on the streets—her lack of judgment and her complete faith in how beautiful the world could be if I gave it a chance.
“All right,” she finally said, regaining my attention.
“Perfect.” I motioned toward the door, trying my damnedest to not fist bump the air.
We were lucky the little hotel was fully operational at all hours, including the restaurant on the main floor. We were the only two patrons dining at this late hour, but they didn’t seem to mind. I’d only been here one other time, and the hospitality hadn’t changed a bit over the course of the years. They were beyond accommodating, and the entire establishment had a family-run feel.
“Can we get a bottle of your house wine, please?” I asked the server once he arrived at our table with ice water.
Rain arched an eyebrow at me after the waiter had taken our dinner orders.
“What?” I asked. “You know this will be a little easier with wine, and besides, they have their own vineyard. I guarantee you it’s fantastic.”
She tucked some of her blond hair behind her ear. “I suppose one drink won’t hurt.”
The waiter returned moments later and opened a bottle of red tableside, pouring it into two stemless glasses.
I raised mine to her. “What should we toast to?”
“A safe expedition,” she instantly answered, clinking her glass against mine then downing a big gulp.
I followed suit, allowing the rich flavors to numb the pain in my chest. I would protect her. I wouldn’t let what had happened to her father happen to Rain.
“You don’t feel safe with me?”
She licked her lips and set her glass down. “Honestly?”
“I always want the truth from you,” I said, shame twisting my gut. Too bad I couldn’t give her straight answers.
Another sip, and she leaned back in the booth. “I feel like you’re dangerous.”
I scrunched my eyebrows. How could she say that without even knowing the truth about me? Did she know me that well? Could she see through my bullshit that clearly?
“Don’t get me wrong,” she quickly continued. “I know you were trained by the best. I just don’t think you consider all the risks before you jump.”
I shook my head, taking another swig as she finished the contents of her glass. I poured her another. “That’s who I am. You’ve known that since we were kids.”
She leaned her elbows on the table, drawing closer to me. “You haven’t considered
pursuing this treasure? I mean, my father isn’t the only archeologist who has been killed searching for it. There have been others, in different areas, who’ve found their end from different means in their hunt across the decades. Maybe it isn’t meant to be found.”
“I have thought about it, but you could also say that about almost any other hard to locate treasure placed in an extreme terrain. And just because I want to find this one doesn’t mean I’d ever put you in danger.”
“Then don’t keep me in the dark.”
Shit. How did she manage to cut through my bullshit and get right to the quick?
“I’m not.” The lie was bitter against my tongue.
“Fine.” The waiter set down our plates, and Rain picked up her knife and fork, cutting a bite of steak off her filet. “Lay out what exactly we’re after, and what obstacles we might run into.”
I swallowed my lamb a little too hard. “We’re after what we’ve always been after.”
“King Solomon’s treasure,” she said. “And you really believe it’s in the cave my father took you to . . . the same one he . . .”
“Yes,” I answered after she’d stared at her plate a little too long. “There was enough evidence from the artifacts we found that day to believe the rest, or at least a large portion of the treasure, still remained there.”
She took another bite and followed it up with another huge gulp of wine. “If that’s true, then why wait almost ten years? Why didn’t you have your show return to the cave and do a big unearthing? Why all the secrecy?”
I heard the question she didn’t ask.
Why did you bolt after such a big discovery, and an even bigger loss?
“Honestly?” I mimicked her question from earlier.
“Always. Please, Easton.”
“I wasn’t ready to go back. No treasure, no matter how priceless, was enough to get me to relive that day.” I spun the wine in my glass, trying to keep my mind firmly in the present, begging it not to fall into the nightmare of memories that had haunted me since. “And I kept the location a secret all these years because, in my mind, it’s always belonged to Harrison. Not me.”
Her perfect pink lips parted, and I wanted to kiss the shock off her face. In the past, she was never surprised by my reasoning on anything—from my decision to not finish high school to my preference for classic books over modern—she’d known me that well. Now . . . now it seemed everything I did was either a surprise or made her angry.
“What really happened that day?”
The restaurant suddenly felt suffocating, and my stomach filled with acid. I could come clean, spill my heart on the table, and tell her to do what she wanted with it—claim it, kill it, or not even acknowledge I still possessed one—it’d always been hers anyway.
“Raindrop,” I said, the confession on the tip of my tongue. The image of hate in her eyes, or anguish, or both, stopped me. That, and the thoughts of her leaving me to do this on my own, which I knew for a fact I couldn’t, not if I wanted the viewer response that I did. I needed another expert in the field, another person to give me credibility, and someone with a sharp eye who knew how to tell one hell of a story through images.
“Well, well, well.” A familiar female voice practically shook the quiet restaurant, and I instantly clenched my eyes shut.
What were the fucking odds?
I shifted out of the booth and stood up, coming face to face with Corrine Ashford—the last person I wanted to see on the planet. Her team of three burly men—Frank, Jake, and, the last one’s name totally slipped my mind—sank into a booth right behind ours.
“Corrine. What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, no point in beating around the bush with this one.
She flipped her long black hair over her shoulder, cracking a smile covered in too much red lipstick. “Haven’t you missed me?”
“As much as a bite victim misses the shark.”
She pursed her lips and sucked her teeth. Her almond eyes fell on Rain, who had remained seated, sipping her wine and returning the stare Corrine gave her. “I assumed after me, you’d never want another dig partner of the fairer sex.”
I chuckled. “You,
? Let’s not kid ourselves.”
She cut her eyes back to me, taking a step closer. So close I could smell the vanilla perfume she loved to wear. The same scent that had been a bitch to get out of my sheets. Eventually I’d scrapped them and bought new ones.
She trailed a finger along my jaw, and I jerked away from her touch. “We should talk, lover.”
I flinched. Why the hell did she have to be
When I’d been so close to reconnecting with Rain moments ago. I shook my head. “We haven’t been lovers for several years. And don’t pretend for a second that is why you’re here.”
“Always business with this one,” she said, pointing at me while speaking to Rain. “Don’t ever expect him to put you before the expedition, sweetheart.”
“You’re one to talk. I believe it was a certain someone who took off after handcuffing me to the bed, all so she could lay claim to a set of coins from Alexandria
had spent weeks hunting.” The accusation flew out of my mouth before I thought about the context.
Real smooth, asshole. Talk about your past conquests in front of the only girl you’ve ever loved.
Corrine giggled. “Good times.”
“Brief. Dangerous. Backstabbing times.” I shifted my weight, not bothering to introduce Rain because there was no world I wanted to live in where these two were on a first-name basis.
The short time I’d spent between Corrine’s legs had been reckless. An attempt to fill the void I never could, and it only landed me with an enemy. She’d seduced me with the calculated reasoning of using my skills. She’d hit a wall with her hunt for the Alexandria coins, and it had only taken a few hints, a challenge, and a forward move from her and I’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.