Fantasy Lover (Page 24)

Fantasy Lover (Dark-Hunter #1)(24)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Ben rolled his eyes. "I keep telling you that the accepted opinion is that she was born of Zeus and Dione. When are you going to give in, and join the rest of us?"

Selena ignored him. "So tell me, Julian, who’s right?"

"You are," he said to Selena.

Ben raked a haughty look over Julian. Grace knew he saw nothing in Julian, except a very handsome man, who most likely knew only beer commercials and cars. "Young man, have you ever read Homer? Do you even know who he is?"

Grace stifled her laughter at the question. She couldn’t wait to hear Julian’s response.

Julian laughed out loud. "I’ve read Homer extensively. The tales attributed to him are an amalgam of legends told and retold until the true facts are lost to antiquity, whereas Hesiod wrote the Theogony with the direct aid of Clio."

Dr. Lewis said something in ancient Greek.

"It’s more than just an opinion, Doctor," Julian responded in English. "It happens to be fact."

Ben took another look at Julian, but she could still tell he wasn’t quite ready to believe someone who looked like Julian would have a clue about his chosen field. "And how would you know?"

Julian answered in Greek.

For the first time since she’d met the man a decade before, Grace saw the doctor look amazed. "My God," he gasped. "You speak as if you were born to it."

Julian cast an amused smile to Grace.

"I told you," Selena said. "He knows the Greek gods and goddesses better than anyone on earth."

Dr. Lewis noticed the ring on Julian’s hand. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked. "Is that a general’s ring?"

Julian nodded. "It is."

"Would you mind if I looked at it?"

Julian slid it from his finger and handed it to him.

Dr. Lewis sucked his breath in sharply. "Macedonian? Second century B.C., I would presume."

"Very good."

"It’s an incredible reproduction," Ben said, handing it back.

Julian returned it to his hand. "It’s not a reproduction."

"No!" Ben gasped in disbelief. "It can’t be an original. It’s far too pristine."

"It was held by a private collector," Selena inserted.

Ben looked back and forth between them. "How did you get it?" he asked Julian.

Julian paused as he remembered the day it had been awarded to him. He and Kyrian of Thrace had been promoted together after they had single-handedly saved Themopoly from the Romans.

It had been a long, brutal, and bloody fight.

Their army had broken and left the two of them alone to defend the town. Julian had expected Kyrian to abandon him as well, but the young fool had just smiled at him, grabbed a sword for each hand, and said, "It’s a beautiful day to die. What say we slay as many of these bastards as we can before we pay Charon?"

A complete and utter lunatic, Kyrian had always had more guts than brains.

Afterward, they had drunk each other under the table in celebration. And in the morning, they had awakened and been promoted.

Gods, of all the people Julian had known in Macedonia, he missed Kyrian most. Kyrian was the only man who had ever stood at his back and defended it.

"It was a gift," Julian said.

Ben glanced at Julian’s hand, his gaze filled with covetous awe. "Would you consider selling it? I’d be willing to pay quite a bit for it."

"Never," Julian said as he thought over the wounds he had received during the battle for Themopoly. "You’ve no idea what I had to go through to get this."

Ben shook his head. "I wish someone would give me a gift like that. Have you any idea how much it’s worth?"

"My weight in gold, last I checked."

Ben laughed out loud, and smacked his hand against Selena’s card table. "Good one. That was the ransom to get back captured generals, wasn’t it?"

"For those too cowardly to die fighting, it was."

A new respect shone in Ben’s eyes as he regarded Julian. "Any idea who it belonged to?"

Selena answered for Julian. "Julian of Macedon. Ever heard of him, Ben?"

Ben’s jaw dropped. His eyes widened. "Are you serious? Do you know who that was?"

Selena made a strange face.

Assuming she didn’t, Ben continued speaking. "Tesius wrote that Julian was going to be the next Alexander the Great. Julian was the son of Diokles of Sparta, also known as Diokles the Butcher. That man made the Marquis de Sade look like Ronald McDonald.

"Rumor had it, Julian was born of a union between Aphrodite and the general, after Diokles had saved one of her temples from desecration. The modern accepted opinion, of course, is that his mother was actually one of Aphrodite’s priestesses."

"Really?" Grace asked.

Julian rolled his eyes. "No one cares who Julian was. That man died a long time ago."

Ben ignored him as he continued to flaunt his knowledge. "Known to the Romans as Augustus Julius Punitor…" He glanced to Grace and added for her benefit, "Julian the Great Punisher. He and Kyrian of Thrace cut a trail of slaughter through the Mediterranean during the Fourth Macedonian War against Rome. Julian despised Rome, and vowed he’d see the city fall to his army. He and Kyrian damn near succeeded in bringing Rome to her knees."

Julian’s jaw flexed. "Do you know what happened to Kyrian of Thrace?"

Ben let out a low whistle. "His wasn’t a pretty end. He was captured and crucified by the Romans in one forty-seven B.C."

Julian flinched at the words. His eyes troubled, he toyed with his ring. "That man was probably one of the best warriors who ever lived. He loved battle like no one I’ve ever known." He shook his head. "I remember Kyrian once drove his chariot up and over a shield wall where he broke the backbone of the Romans. It allowed his soldiers to defeat them with only a handful of losses." He frowned. "I can’t believe they ever captured him."

Ben shrugged nonchalantly. "Well, once Julian disappeared, Kyrian was the only Macedonian general worthy of leading an army, so the Romans went after him with everything they had."

"What happened to Julian?" Grace asked, wondering what the historians had to say about the matter.

Julian glared at her.

"No one knows," Ben said. "It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world. Here you have this general who can’t be defeated in arms by anyone, and then poof, at age thirty-two, he vanishes without a trace."

Ben tapped his hand against Selena’s table. "The last anyone saw of Julian was at the battle of Conjara. In a brilliant move, he tricked Livius into giving up his impregnable position. It was one of the worst defeats in Roman history."

"Who cares?" Julian groused.

Ben ignored his interruption. "After the battle, Julian was reputed to have sent word to Scipio the Younger that he was coming for him in the name of vengeance for Scipio’s defeat of the Macedonians. Terrified, Scipio gave up his military service in Macedonia and volunteered to fight in Spain instead."

Ben shook his head. "But before Julian could carry out the threat, he vanished. His family was found slaughtered in their home. And that’s where it gets interesting." Ben looked at Selena. "The Macedonian accounts say he was mortally wounded by Livius during the battle, and in incredible pain he rode home to kill his family to keep them from being taken as slaves by his enemies. Roman accounts claim Scipio sent several of his soldiers to attack Julian in the middle of the night. Supposedly, they killed him with his family, then cut up his body and hid the pieces."

Julian scoffed at that. "Scipio was a coward and a bully. He would never have dared to attack m-"

"So," Grace said, interrupting Julian before he could give himself away. "Nice weather, eh?"

"Scipio was not a coward," Ben said to Julian. "No one can argue his successes in Spain."

She saw hatred flash across Julian’s eyes.

Ben didn’t seem to notice. "Young man, that ring of yours is absolutely priceless. I would love to know how someone got a hold of it. For that matter, I’d kill to know what happened to its original owner."

Grace exchanged an uncomfortable look with Selena.

Julian smirked wryly at Ben. "Julian of Macedon incurred the wrath of the gods and was punished for his arrogance."

"That’s another explanation, I suppose." His watch alarm went off. "Damn, I have to go pick up my wife."

He got up and held his hand out to Julian. "We didn’t meet properly, I’m Ben Lewis."

"Julian," he said, shaking his hand.

Ben laughed. Until he realized Julian wasn’t joking. "Really?"

"Named for your Macedonian general, you might say."

"Your father must have been like mine. In love with all things Greek."

"His allegiance was actually to Sparta."

Ben laughed even harder. He glanced back at Selena. "Why don’t you bring him to our next Socrates club meeting? I’d love for the guys to meet him. It’s not often I find someone who knows Greek history almost as well as I do."

He turned his attention back to Julian. "It’s been a pleasure."

"Later," Ben said, waving to Selena.

"Well," Selena said to Julian once Ben had vanished into the crowd. "You, my friend, have accomplished the impossible. You have just impressed one of the leading ancient Greek scholars in this country."

Julian didn’t seem to care, but Grace did. "Lanie, do you think it’s possible that Julian could be a professor once he breaks the curse? I was thinking he’d-"

"Don’t, Grace," Julian said, interrupting her.

"Don’t what? You’re going to need something-"

"I’m not staying here."

The cold, emotionless gaze was the same one he had worn the first night she’d conjured him. And it sliced through her.

"What do you mean?" Grace asked.

He averted his gaze. "Athena has offered me a way to return home. Once the curse is broken, she’ll send me back to Macedonia."

Grace struggled to breathe. "I see," she said, even though inside she was dying. "You’ll just use my body, then leave." Her throat constricted. "At least I won’t need Selena to drive me home afterward."

Julian flinched as if she’d slapped him. "What do you want from me, Grace? Why would you want me to stay here?"

She didn’t know the answer to that. All she knew was that she didn’t want him to leave. She wanted him to stay.

But not if he didn’t want to.

"You know what," she said, growing angry at the thought of his leaving her. "I don’t want you to stay here. In fact, why don’t you go home with Selena for a few days?" She looked at Selena. "Would you mind?"

Selena’s mouth opened and closed like a fish gulping for air.

Julian reached for her. "Grace-"

"Don’t touch me," she said, wringing her arm away from him. "It makes my skin crawl."

"Grace!" Selena snapped. "I can’t believe you-"

"It’s all right," Julian said, his voice empty and cold. "At least she didn’t spit in my face with her dying breath."

She’d hurt him. Grace could see it in his eyes, but then he had hurt her, too. Terribly.

"I’ll see you later," she said to Selena, then left Julian standing there.

Selena let out a long, slow breath as she looked up at Julian while he watched Grace walk away from them. His entire body was rigidly still, and she saw the fierce tic in his jaw.

"They shoot, they score. A direct hit straight through the heart and into the raw nerves."

Julian pinned her with a hostile glare. "Tell me, Oracle. What should I have said?"

Selena shuffled her cards. "I don’t know," she said wistfully. "I guess you can never go wrong with honesty."

Julian rubbed his eyes as he sat down in the chair before Selena’s table. He hadn’t meant to hurt Grace.

And he would never forget the look on her face as she spat those words at him. "Don’t touch me. It makes my skin crawl."

He struggled to breathe through the agony in his chest. The Fates were still mocking him.

It must be a boring day for them up on Olympus.

"You want me to do a reading for you?" Selena asked, dragging his thoughts away from the past.

"Sure," he said. "Why not?" She couldn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know.

"What’s your question?"

"Will I ever…" Julian paused before he asked her the same question he’d once asked the Oracle at Delphi.

"Will I ever break the curse?" he asked quietly.

Selena shuffled her cards, then laid three of them out. Her eyes widened.

He didn’t need her to read them. He could see for himself, a card with a tower being struck by lightning, a card of three swords piercing a heart, and a demon holding the chains of two people.

"It’s all right," he said to Selena. "I never really thought it would come to pass."

"That’s not what they say," she whispered. "But you have one hell of a battle to come."

He laughed bitterly. "Battles I can handle." It was the ache in his heart that was going to kill him.