“Introduce me to the rest of the staff,” the colonel ordered briskly.
She was half tempted to argue further, but instead, behaved herself. “Let’s go. And call me Athena. Everyone else does.”
The staff was small: two graduate students coming out of the fields of physics and math to analyze brain waves and crunch numbers, two student programmers to translate the equations into computer code, and two hardware technicians to keep the computers up and running. At one time, the best scientific minds in America had worked on the crown in secret, along with the other artifacts recovered from the Roswell crash. And now they were down to this.
A handful of geeks in a basement lab, a crazy psychic chick and one outcast colonel.
That night, Athena tossed and turned in bed, the sheets tangling infuriatingly around her legs and her pillow hot and lumpy. It was all Pete Grafton’s fault. He’d been gone for the rest of the morning, and then come back in the afternoon with a security system engineer who’d installed fancy new locks on the lab’s entrance and welded a massive safe to the floor of the tiny conference room next to her office.
The colonel had announced flatly that he was in charge now and things were going to change, starting with beefed-up security. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had then proceeded to charm the socks off her staff. He’d taken them all out for happy hour, and of course, the drinks were on him. Apparently, he knew that the surest way to impoverished graduate students’ hearts was to give them free food, or even better, free booze. The cad.
She’d had to endure a noisy bar for nearly two hours and sip her way through several glasses of inferior wine because of him and his cursed glad-handing. Her hair still smelled like cigarette smoke even after a long, hot shower. But it had been that or let him steal the loyalty of her staff right out from under her nose. Damned if he didn’t look even better in a blue V-necked sweater with the sleeves pushed up, and a snug pair of jeans, than he had in his dress slacks and white shirt earlier.
Athena punched her pillow a couple of times and forced the tension from her muscles. She was going to sleep now, and Peter Grafton’s sexy smile and bedroom eyes weren’t going to pop into her head again! It was a hard fought battle, but with the help of the wine, she eventually conquered her errant imagination and dropped off to sleep.
And of course, promptly dreamed of him. His appearance in her unconscious mind was downright exasperating.
“What are you doing here?” her dreaming self demanded.
He looked around, interested. “Nice dream. Great decor. Is this your bedroom?”
She blinked and gazed about. They were in a palatial stone chamber lit by flickering firelight and dominated by a massive canopy bed curtained in burgundy velvet. The ceiling was dark wood crudely painted with a vine pattern that was shockingly phallic. One wall held a geometric display of swords and spears, and a pair of enormous tapestries covered two others.
“Sorry, my bedroom’s done in haute flea-market couture. Time travel researchers don’t make the big bucks, I’m afraid. Heck, I’m lucky to make a paycheck at all.”
“Why this whole castle motif, then?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s your dream. You must know.”
“I don’t have a clue. Maybe you remind me of Prince Charming, so I conjured it up.”
“Prince Charming, huh?”
She glared at the dream image of him. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
He grinned and went over to the bed to sit down on its high edge. “Dream a more comfortable mattress, will you?”
She scowled and did her best to imagine the lumpiest, most uneven mattress she could. With fleas.
Pete laughed unrepentantly. “So. Are we going to get naked and do the nasty?”
“I’m going to dream you tarred and feathered if you don’t behave yourself.”
“I like your wit. It’s snappy.”
She glanced down, and was appalled to see herself wearing little more than a filmy negligee of some white, sheer, floaty fabric like fine silk. Where did this gown come from? Surely she hadn’t imagined it! Worse, she was backlit by the fire crackling warmly behind her. It had to be rendering the silk all but transparent.
She looked up, and sure enough, he was devouring the sight as if she were entirely edible. Suddenly, she didn’t know where to put her hands. Her impulse was to cover her private parts, but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing she was uncomfortable. He was so irritating!
“Come here,” he murmured.
Her gaze jerked up. His eyes were intense, glowing cobalt in the firelight. Mesmerized by the flames dancing in them, she eased forward, one hesitant step at a time, until she stood directly in front of him. He held a hand out to her. His fingers were long, his palm broad and callused. It was a strong hand. One that had seen hard work. And yet it hinted at a sensitivity that stole her breath away. She stared at it, overwhelmed by the offer implicit in his simple gesture. She didn’t have to be psychic to know that if she took his hand, there would be no going back.
What the heck. It was only a dream.
She laid her palm in his.
The stillness of the moment exploded into motion as he swept her into his embrace, pulling her up hard against him as his other arm wrapped around her waist, molding her to his muscular body. He turned and carried her down to the bed in a single swift move. He murmured, “I’ve been wanting to do this since the first moment I saw you lying in that chair with that ridiculous crown on.”
“It’s not ridic—”
He cut her off her words by kissing her. Cut off her entire train of thought, in fact. Her brain tumbled dizzily as his heat and strength pressed her deep into the soft mattress. Athena didn’t think of herself as a particularly small woman, but she was suddenly aware of how large and powerful a man he was.
And then his mouth moved against hers, and her whole world shifted. Oh, my. The man could really kiss. His mouth possessed hers with finesse. His tongue stroked her lips until they parted, then slipped between her teeth to taste the very essence of her.
The light shifted, becoming a warm glow all around them, as if they floated within the fire itself. His flickering tongue and the snapping desire within her made her feel weightless, hot. Made of flame. It was intoxicating. She spun up and out of herself, as bright and light as a spark, and Pete was right there with her, taking her higher and higher, spinning them up into the starry night that suddenly replaced the canopy over their heads, a limitless space as icy cold as she was scorching hot.
Despite the contrast, it was his fingers and mouth dancing upon her flesh that made her shiver uncontrollably. But he was there with her, his heat burning her until she relished the frozen void around them.
“Fly with me,” he murmured.
“Can we do that?”
He laughed, the sound low and husky. “It’s your dream. We can do whatever you want.” He paused, then murmured against her neck, “What do you want, Thena?”
“Don’t call me that.”
He chuckled. “Why not?”
“It’s not my name.”
“Your name is too formal for you, or for this moment at any rate. We’re naked and exploring the universe.”
“We are not—” She looked down and gasped. Where had their clothes gone? She hadn’t dreamed them off! “How did you do that?” she demanded.
He laughed again. “I didn’t do it. You did.”
“Stop saying that,” she snapped.
“But it’s true.”
Before she could argue any further, he was kissing her again, and all thought of who’d caused what evaporated into the night.
His body was magnificent. He looked like a Greek statue, with cleanly sculpted muscles, strong without being massive, graceful but still managing to be entirely masculine. Really, it wasn’t fair for a man to be that beautiful. The nagging sense of inadequacy Athena had been experiencing ever since he burst into the lab came roaring back.