THE ROLLER-COASTER WAS an old one, creaking and groaning under the wheels of the cart as it clanked around a tight curve and sped into serpentine humps and coils, climbing and dropping, climbing and dropping.
Peter wanted to hang on, but he couldn’t let go of the cotton candy and the box of popcorn, wind blowing them away in shreds. He was going faster now, climbing and dropping, into darkness. The cart whizzed through a maze of steep canyons—towering black walls traced with glowing graffiti, spirals, cabalistic signs, but he couldn’t stop to trace their meaning, and he was afraid to anyway.
He plunged into a black tunnel, glowing hieroglyphs exploding outward in electric mandala patterns as he arrowed down through the center.
He gasped for air, sucked in bitter seawater, and realized with a jolt of panic where he was.
Sinking, drowning. Heavy inky blackness all around him. Iciness laps through him, pulling him deeper. He wants to scream, but his throat is full of water, and he can only flail in helpless horror as the cold dead fingers of the crew members brush his face in the darkness, catch against his clothing, pull him deeper. There’s a fearsome voice down there, calling him with the others to the bottom of the pit, promising some horrible, final revelation—
Peter wrenched upright, sweating, wincing in bright sunlight. Beneath him, the boat bobbed gently over a flat sea. “Damn.” He rubbed his face, forehead throbbing. He gathered himself to get up and check the boat.
“Sit still. The current is still carrying us on the course you set after the storm, toward those islands.” Ariadne pointed toward darker blue smudges on the horizon. Beside the tiller, she was combing the thick dark hair drifting loose about her shoulders. “I’m sure that island is one of the Ionians. You were right, we were blown far northwest, past the southwest point of the Peloponnese.”
He squinted around the boat. He’d have to stitch up that rip in the sail before it went any farther. . . . He rubbed his pounding head.
“Here. Let me help.” She moved to kneel in front of him, studying him with her grave, considering look. She reached out to touch his face.
He winced again as she gently examined the bruise where he’d hit the boom. He slowly relaxed as her fingertips worked around it, smoothing his forehead, lightly kneading his scalp. Warmth spread outward from her hands, somehow tingling with energy but soothing, soaking into him. Sliding down his spine in a fluid ripple as she shifted around to massage the back of his neck. He was riding a river, flowing to the sea past fields of long grasses that rippled in the sun to a lullaby. . . .
He blinked. The throbbing ache had ebbed away.
“Bad, the nightmare?”
He started to shrug, but let it go as her hands rested lightly on his shoulders. “Variation on a theme. You’d think after all these years. . . .” He was very conscious of the warmth of her palms through his thin shirt. “Scouting sub I was on in the war hit a mine, broke up. Deep enough I almost didn’t make it to the surface. The others didn’t.”
He made an aborted movement away, but her hands stayed still, steadying him. “Dreams always end up pretty much the same. A voice calling me down into the blackness. Death. But it’s not just that, it’s horrible but . . . seductive. Promising some secret if I go.” He did shrug then, disguising a shudder. “Then I wake myself up.”
Her hands lifted away, leaving a cool vacancy. “Did you never go to find out what the voice promised?”
He twisted around, eyes narrowing. Her gaze met his, open, like she really wanted to know.
“No.” He cleared his throat. “That’s the creepy part. It’s something always there, waiting, but I can’t go in there and find out or I’ll never come back, sane.”
“Someday you will have to go.” Her eyes were purple-blue in the sunlight, holding his.
He would have shrugged again, made a joke of it, should have resented her high-handing him, but somehow it wasn’t like that. “I’m afraid.”
“I know. I’m afraid, too.” She dropped her gaze, touching her pendant in that way she had. Then she raised her face to meet his eyes. “Petro. . . .”
Her look stabbed straight through him. His hand shook as he touched her face. Carved lines gone soft and vulnerable, and he’d never seen anything so beautiful.
He’d known how her lips would feel, and taste—honey and sun and sea-salt with that teasing hint of pungent herbs. He held her warm against him, felt her heart beating fast against his, and everything had come straight. Sunlight shimmered around them, rippling over the smooth swells. They moved together without hesitation. And she was the one, the perfect fit, new but familiar like it had all been choreographed eons ago and they’d only forgotten until now.
Breath catching in his throat, he opened his eyes to see her lips trembling on a smile. He kissed her eyelids closed, sailing down with her into the purple depths.
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