It was late afternoon, and I was in my office. Theo and a couple of his men were with me, discussing new locations to look for Kara. A map of the National Park of Nestos Delta was pinned to the wall, with various spots selected using arrow sticky notes. “What about the gorge?” I asked him.
Theo rubbed his chin. “It’s certainly possible,” he said. “There is a hiking path along the gorge, but it’s not long. The river itself is about ten kilometers. Plenty of cliffs along the way; there might be a cave or two, although I cannot say with any certainty.”
“Would there be a place to hide a Pegasus?”
“I doubt it. Besides, it wouldn’t be wise to keep one around, especially if you’ve just kidnapped a woman. One glance in the wrong direction, and she could be on the horse and gone before they could stop her.”
“Kara would certainly take the chance if she could,” I replied. “That said, they could still be hiding in the gorge. All they would need is a clearing for landings and someone else to fly the horse to the stable.”
“One way to keep a captive audience,” one of the other men said, laughing.
Theo shot him a look, and the man’s eyes widened in fear. “My apologies, Ares. Marcus is new. He hasn’t learned when to keep his mouth shut.”
“It’s fine. I’m not offended. If the roles were reversed, I probably would have made the same joke.”
Marcus relaxed a little, but I could tell he was still on edge.
“I haven’t been to the gorge in a couple of years,” Theo said. “I’m working from memory. What I’d like to do is take a couple of men and go up there. Using a drone, I can get a better look at the cliffs and surrounding areas. If there’s something up there, I’ll find it.”
“You need to look for a large cave or dwelling. It has to be something that could house several women.”
“Several?” Theo looked confused. “You know something I don’t?”
“One of my sisters mentioned the other day that there had been several disappearances similar to Kara’s,” I replied, walking to my desk and picking up a file. Opening it, I looked over the list. “At least six that I know of right now. I just got this a little while ago. I’m going to have Reginald do some checking to see what he can come up with.”
Theo leaned over and read the names. “I know a couple of these women. They’re friends with my sister.” He looked up at me. “Should I be concerned about my sister?”
“I can’t answer that, Theo. I just don’t know. But I would err on the side of caution and tell her to be careful. She shouldn’t go anywhere by herself, be aware of her surroundings, be prepared to fight if necessary.”
“She knows how to fight,” Marcus said. “She throws a mean right hook.”
“Voice of experience?” I laughed.
His face turned red in reply.
“I’ll talk to her,” Theo said. “I’ll speak to some of her friends, too.”
“Do it privately,” I warned him. “Don’t cause a panic. If word gets out, we’ll have vigilantes roaming the streets, and someone could get hurt.”
“I’ll take care of it. The boys and I will head up to the gorge tomorrow. We’ll be back in a couple of days.”
“Take all the equipment and supplies you need. Be careful.”
“Always, boss,” Theo replied, shaking my hand. The other two men stood, nodded at me, and followed Theo out the door.
I plopped down in one of the leather chairs in front of my desk and sighed. Rubbing my hand across my face, I studied the map again, trying to think of other places Kara might be. I could feel the frustration building inside of me again. It felt like we were going around in circles and not getting any closer to finding her. My greatest fear was that she was dead. I wasn’t sure I could live with the knowledge I had been responsible for another woman’s death.
Reginald burst through the door at that moment. “What are you still doing here?” he asked.
“Where else would I be?”
“Upstairs getting ready!”
“Getting ready for what?”
“The party, of course!”
I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose, silently praying for the strength not to wring his neck. “Reginald, you are obviously excited about something. What, I have no clue. Take a deep breath and start at the beginning.”
Rolling his eyes, Reginald did as I asked. “A couple of days ago, a black envelope was delivered to the front desk. It was an invitation to a party. I accepted on your behalf. But you need to go upstairs and change clothes. You need to be there in two hours.”
I stared at him for a moment, then exploded. “Are you out of your bloody mind?! I can’t go to a party right now! My fiance is out here somewhere, being held against her will. I don’t have time to go play nice with a bunch of stuffy people. Wasn’t it you that yelled at me the other day for not doing more to find her?”
“Well, yes, that’s true, but…”
“No! No buts! I do not have the time or patience to go to a party, Reginald. You can go for me. I have work to do.”
“Now see here, Ares,” Reginald said. “You have done nothing but mope around since Kara was taken. You have pushed yourself beyond human constraints.”
“I’m immortal,” I reminded him.
“Be that as it may, you aren’t sleeping much at night, you pace your office like a restless tiger in a cage, and you have busted three speed bags in the gym. You’re popping all over the country looking for her. You’ve hardly seen your family, except for Nike, and that’s only because she came here the other day.” He walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s only for a couple of hours, Ares,” he said gently. “It won’t kill you to sit and relax, spend a little time with your family.”
“My family? Not all of them give off nice, relaxing vibes. Murderous vibes, yes.”
“What family doesn’t make you want to commit murder? I have the same problem. Get over it.” He pulled me to my feet and shoved me toward the door. “Go upstairs, find a fabulous suit to wear, and go have a little fun. First thing in the morning, we’ll start looking for her again.”
Despite all the grousing and grumbling I did, Reginald didn’t budge. He went with me to the penthouse, going through my closet while I took a shower. When I came out, there was a midnight blue dress shirt, black slacks, and a black leather jacket laid out on the bed. Well, at least I would be comfortable at this stupid party.
Twenty minutes later, I walked into a large room. Many of my family members were already there. Eros, Clio, and Eris were sitting together, laughing and talking. Dionysos was at the bar, telling one of his outrageous stories to the amusement of those around him. It had been a while since I had spent any time with him. Perhaps after I found Kara…if I found her.
Shaking my head, I wandered over to a dark corner and sat down. I glanced around, noticing the black drapes hanging on the walls. Not my choice for decorations, but to each his own.
My father, loud and boisterous as usual, began talking. He said it was wonderful to have the family together and how we should do it more often. I tuned him out, my mind thinking about the map of the forest again. Suddenly, the black drapes fell, revealing mirrors with runes positioned above them. I found myself staring at one close to me. There was a flash, and I was falling into what felt like a bottomless pit.
There was a long white runner on the ground, leading to an altar. I nervously waited, tugging on the sleeves of my tuxedo. Finally, the wedding march music began, and I looked toward the back of the church as the doors swung open. Standing there, wearing a beautiful white gown and holding a bouquet of red and white roses, was the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen. I watched as her father escorted her down the aisle until she was next to me. The minister’s words jumbled together as I smiled down at my bride.
“Aric, wake up,” a soft voice said to me.
I opened my eyes and looked into deep blue eyes. I blinked a couple of times, then smiled as her face came into focus. “Good morning, my beautiful wife.”
“Good morning, my handsome husband,” Katharina said.