“NEREID, YOU’RE A GOOD old gal. You won’t let me down.” Peter patted the console, checking instruments. Geomagnetic interference was kicking up again, radio reception screwy. But they were fueled, cargo squared away, ready to go. Just had to pry Her Highness loose.
Ms. Conreid was sure to blow their cover this time. They had to at least slip around the island and lay up somewhere else. Not wait here like sitting ducks.
Dropping into the pilot seat, he scratched under his whiskers and ran his hands through matted hair. He stared blankly out the forward window at the tangled pattern of fishing nets, light, and shadow. Beyond the boat’s camouflage shroud, the cove lapped at the foot of the cliff. Deep blue, almost the color of her eyes.
“To hell with that.” But he stared, hypnotized by the lulling rhythm. He could still see her tears dropping into the dust, first sign she was a woman and not one of their painted icons, and what was it for? Because the double-crossing little shit had run off on her? He hadn’t waited around to hear about it. If she wasn’t getting her gear packed up and ready to go, the hired hand was cutting loose.
Watery reflections flickered over the cliff face, weaving strands of shadow like the neural leads linking the two naked women in the night. He wanted to rip and rend those shadowy connections. But he could still see the exquisite curve of her bare shoulders and back through the wind-flung shutters, golden sheen of her skin, lovely lift and sway of full breasts as she turned to face him, lamplight and shadow flowing over her. Sweep of jaw and brows and those deep-sea-indigo eyes seeing all the way into him.
A pang that wasn’t so much desire as a paralyzing tenderness clutched him. He wanted to wrap up the memory of that glimpse and store it forever in his heart. He knew perfectly well he was out of his mind, there was no way, he should hate her for screwing around with his life, and of all people he had to pick a possibly genuine nut-case. Christ, now he knew why they called it hopeless.
Say it, Mitchell, he told himself, gritting his teeth and deliberately rubbing salt in it. You’re hopelessly in love with this Ariadne Demodakis, and she could care less.
He slammed his fists against the armrests, wrenching himself from his funk. Pissing and moaning when all their butts could be in a sling. Wouldn’t he love to get his hands on the Lizard right now, though. He didn’t care what Georgios found out in the village, it was time to move.
He was heading out of the wheelhouse when the red light winked on over the radio scanner. Local channel.
He turned up the volume. Hiss of static, a few garbled words. More static. Then, in Greek, “. . . the coast road.” He frowned as it crackled again, making out, “. . . the blond foreigner.”
“Hell.” Twiddling the tuner, he caught a little more. “. . . fishing boats, the hydrofoil leaving. . . guns. The others . . . landrover up the coast road . . . the woman with them.”
“Fuck!” He grabbed his binoculars and scrambled over the deck, fighting his way out from under the heavy, stinking camouflage nets and heaving himself up the tilted side of the wrecked freighter, over its rail. Vaulting onto the wheelhouse, he clattered up the cabin roof, metal baking his borrowed boot-soles.
Binoculars to his face, panting, he sighted over the lower east arm of the cove, scanning the sea. Bright sun dazzles. Hazy horizon sweeping dizzily. Some distant darker blotches. He reset for maximum, and the blurred bow of a fishing caique leaped up in the lenses. He held his breath, trying to steady the field of focus, easing over the sheeted glare of the sea to pick out another fishing boat, then a third. Vague figures on deck stood motionless.
He scanned past them and froze.
The image was jumping in the lenses, too far to focus, a dark streamlined shape closing in on the fishermen. Moving fast. It swelled in the field, skittering, glint of spray obscuring the image. He lost it, picked it up again. Moving that fast, it had to be a hydrofoil. The mercenaries, moving up the coast.
He swore and skidded off the cabin and onto the tilted deck, started running. He stopped short, spinning gears. Stood panting in the sun, shirt sweat-plastered to his back, staring through the nets at Nereid.
“Blazing son of a bitch!”
They’d be at the cove within twenty minutes. No time to run up the hill, grab Ariadne, get back here and get the boat out. But he could write it all off, take Nereid out right now, get free and let the Demodakis mess take care of itself. She was just using him. Time to cut his losses.
He grabbed the edge of the netting and flung it back off the flying bridge, dropped down and into the wheelhouse, started to crank the engines.
“Shit.” He couldn’t do it. “Mitchell, you idiot, don’t get yourself screwed over again. . . .”
But he was already bringing up his systems microprocessor, cueing security access, triggering a systems dump. That would keep anyone from taking the boat out, at least for a while.
The screen blinked patiently: All systems? (Your code)
He took a deep breath and punched in the code. Too late to cut free now. He was committed. “Christ.”
He tore into his stateroom, groped under a cabinet for his secret stash—pistol, client book, meager hoard of cash—threw it in a duffel with some of his stuff, grabbed his automatic from its cupboard and headed out through the wheelhouse.
He stopped, staring at the flaking painted mermaid on the console. Still smiling.
He paused at the top of the switchbacks from the cove, huffing, shaking sweat from his eyes to scan the sea. Hydrofoil clear now, leaving the fishing boats behind, flying on twin wings of spray up the coast toward the cove. Peter ran for the house.
“Petro!” Georgios was toiling up the track from the village, waving his rifle.
Peter waited as the fisherman panted up to him. “Georgios, we have to go!” He hustled him on toward the house.
“Yes.” Georgios puffed alongside. “The village fishermen heard news. Philip Tsouranis has a radio, and finally she works again. The foreigners with their guns, the whore has joined them, and they—”
“I know. Got to get Ariadne out of here. Too late by sea.” They pounded through the gap in the stone fence.
“I know a hidden path through the ravines to the mountains. They will never find it.” Georgios hurried into the dirt yard. “Despoina Demodaki!”
Peter paused by the open gate. The dog’s body was gone. He scanned the sea once more, then raised the binoculars up over the cliffs to what twists he could see of the road running east. No sign of a vehicle yet. Lowering the lenses, he squinted into the fierce glare over rocky ridges running into trackless mountains to the west. Bare expanses, deceptive. When you set off on what looked like a straight course for a landmark, you always ended up lost in mazes of hidden ravines, turned back by the murderous thorn thickets. Georgios was right, the mercenaries would never find them up there.
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