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"The Search for Atlantis" is a celebration of curiosity and courage, a testament to the idea that every legend holds a grain of truth waiting to be uncovered. It is a thrilling adventure that will captivate anyone fascinated by history, mystery, and the unyielding human spirit.
Chapter 3 – New partnership.

The first pale rays of dawn were just beginning to lighten the sky when Nick stirred from his sleep, the gentle sound of the ocean a serene backdrop to his awakening. He stretched out the stiffness from a night spent in the car, feeling surprisingly refreshed given the circumstances. With a smile, he reached into the back of the car and grabbed a bottle of water, using it to briskly brush his teeth outside, appreciating the crisp morning air.

Feeling invigorated, Nick rummaged through the trunk and pulled out one of his metal detectors. He recalled the words his father had said to him years ago, back when they had unearthed an old Roman coin in a field in England: "Once a treasure hunter, always a treasure hunter." Those words had sparked his lifelong fascination with history and exploration, leading him to this very moment.

With the metal detector in hand, Nick thought about Julie, still asleep in the passenger seat. He didn’t want to wake her, knowing she needed rest after their long drive, yet he also felt eager to share the thrill of the hunt with her. He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled a quick note:

“Gone down to the beach to metal detect in the area of the found coin. There’s another metal detector in the back if you want to join me.”

After placing the note on the dashboard where Julie would easily find it, he stepped out of the car and walked towards the beach, his steps quickening with anticipation. The soft sand beneath his feet and the rhythmic sound of the waves further invigorated his spirit.

As he reached the beach, the sun began to climb higher, casting a golden glow over the water. The beach was quiet, save for the occasional cry of a seabird. Nick powered on his metal detector and began sweeping the area methodically. Each step and swing of the detector was made with a mix of hope and precision, his eyes keenly watching the device's readings.

The metal detector hummed softly in his hands as he traversed the stretch of sand where the coin had been found. His mind wandered to the history that might be buried beneath his feet, remnants of a past civilization that had once made contact with this very shore.

As he worked, Nick thought about the possibilities that lay ahead. Each beep of the detector could be the signal of another important find, perhaps another clue in the great puzzle of Atlantis that he was trying to piece together. The early morning hours gave him a peaceful solitude to reflect on his journey—the losses, the sacrifices, but also the undying passion that drove him forward.

Nick moved with a practiced ease, his hopes as high as the morning sun, knowing that each sweep could bring him closer to the discovery of a lifetime. The promise of uncovering history, of standing where ancient traders might have stood, fueled his determination and sharpened his focus.

As he continued, he kept an ear out for the sound of footsteps, half-expecting, half-hoping Julie would join him in his search. The idea of sharing the thrill of discovery with someone who appreciated the historical significance as much as he did added an extra layer of excitement to his morning expedition. Whether she joined him or not, Nick knew that today, like every day on this quest, held the potential for something extraordinary.

The steady hum of the metal detector suddenly shifted to a rapid beeping, signaling a potential find just beneath the surface of the sandy beach. Eagerly, Nick knelt down, the early morning sun casting long shadows behind him as he plunged his small plastic shovel into the soft sand. He worked methodically, carefully sifting through each scoop of sand, ensuring nothing was overlooked.

After several tense moments, his efforts were rewarded. Glimmering amidst the granules of sand, a ring appeared. It wasn't the historical artifact he had hoped for, but the gleam of gold was unmistakable. He picked it up, brushing off the remaining sand with gentle fingers. Inspecting it closely, he read the markings on the ring: "Class of 1982, UCLA." It was a simple piece, lacking any personalization beyond the year and the institution.

"Nice," Nick murmured to himself, appreciating the find even if it wasn't ancient. Just then, he heard footsteps approaching along the beach.

"What did you find?" Julie’s voice called out as she approached, curiosity brightening her features. Nick looked up and smiled at her arrival.

"Just a ring," he replied, standing up to meet her. He handed her the ring for a closer look.

Julie turned the ring in her hands, examining the in***********ion. “No name,” she observed, echoing his earlier thoughts.

Nick shook his head, a slight disappointment in his voice, "That’s right."

But Julie's entrepreneurial spirit quickly saw an opportunity. “That’s good, actually. It means you can sell it without any issues. The price of the gold in this ring could give you some funds to work with,” she suggested, her smile encouraging.

Nick couldn’t help but return her smile, feeling a glimmer of hope at the prospect. “Maybe we don’t need to sleep in the car again tonight,” he half-joked, half-hoped.

Julie’s smile widened. “Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. The view was amazing, and the company was pleasant,” she quipped, giving him a playful wink.

Nick blushed at her comment, the warmth of the morning sun suddenly feeling more intense. Their conversation flowed naturally as they discussed the potential value of the ring and brainstormed where they might sell it. Julie’s knowledge of local pawn shops and her negotiating skills promised to be invaluable in their quest to secure more comfortable accommodations.

As Nick and Julie continued their conversation, they didn't stop their systematic sweep of the beach with their metal detectors. The soft, rhythmic beeps accompanied their discussion, breaking the morning stillness occasionally with the promise of another find. The beach yielded its small treasures sporadically—a coin here, a necklace there. Most of the finds were common quarters and dimes, glinting modestly in the early light, along with a somewhat rarer one-dollar coin.

Their search also uncovered a few necklaces, varying in material and design, and another ring, this one crafted from silver, less ostentatious than the gold one but still a find. Amidst the coins and jewelry, the occasional beep led to less exciting discoveries like a stray bottle cap, a stark reminder of the beach's more frequent visitors.

"So, three dollars and forty-two cents in change, three necklaces—one in gold, two rings, and a bottlecap," Julie summarized, her tone light but satisfied with their morning’s haul. Her eyes sparkled with the thrill of the search, reflecting a genuine enjoyment that matched Nick's own.

Nick smiled, impressed not only with their finds but also with Julie's enthusiastic companionship. "Not a bad haul for a couple of hours," he remarked as they made their way back to the car, the sand sticking slightly to their shoes.

The air was warmer now, the sun climbing higher in the sky as they loaded their gear into the car. The morning's finds lay between them on the center console, a small pile of this and that which suddenly seemed more like treasure than the simple objects they were.

With their findings secured, they headed to the local pawnshop Julie had heard about. It was a small place, tucked between a surf shop and a café popular with the early morning crowd. The pawnshop was run by a man known for his fair dealings and good humor, attributes that would hopefully translate into favorable transactions for their assortment of beach-found goods.

The drive was short, filled with light banter and shared anticipation about how much they might get for their findings. Julie was optimistic, her previous experiences at other pawnshops giving her confidence in their potential success. Nick appreciated her local knowledge, realizing how her insights into the area were proving invaluable.

As they parked and walked into the dimly lit shop, the bell above the door announced their arrival. The walls were lined with shelves brimming with an eclectic mix of items, each with its own hidden history. The air was thick with the musty scent of old books and metal, a smell that Nick found oddly comforting, reminiscent of his numerous visits to antique shops and markets.

They greeted the owner, who welcomed them with a broad smile. "What treasures have you brought me today?, or are you here to buy something?" he asked, his voice rich with a friendly curiosity that made Nick feel at ease.

Julie and Nick laid out their finds on the counter, explaining where each piece had come from. The owner examined each item with expert eyes, occasionally muttering appreciations or making intrigued noises.

As the owner set about appraising their finds, Nick looked over at Julie, grateful for her guidance and company. Whatever the outcome of their visit to the pawnshop, the morning had strengthened their partnership, each find on the beach a step closer in their quest not just for treasure, but for the mysteries of Atlantis that lay waiting to be uncovered.

The pawnshop owner scrutinized the silver ring they placed before him, his expression contemplative. "I'll give you twenty for this," he eventually said, gesturing to the ring. "Silver isn't in high demand right now; gold is what people are really after these days."

Nick nodded in understanding. "Makes sense," he agreed, his tone accepting.

Julie, however, was already moving on to the next items. "And what about the gold necklace and the ring?" she queried, her tone expectant as she slid the pieces across the counter.

The shop owner’s eyes lit up a bit as he examined the gold items. "Five hundred for the ring, two hundred for the necklace," he offered, his voice indicating that he considered this a generous appraisal.

Julie shook her head, her business acumen kicking in. "If that's your offer, they must be worth at least twice that. So, seven hundred fifty for the ring and three hundred for the necklace," she countered confidently.

The owner frowned slightly, a hint of respect flickering in his eyes. "You've been to a pawnshop before," he remarked, half statement, half question.

Julie smiled, unfazed. "Not my first rodeo," she replied coolly.

Nick watched in awe as Julie expertly negotiated. The pawnshop owner sighed, finally relenting. "Fine, but not a dime more," he conceded. He counted out the cash and laid it on the counter.

Nick picked up the money, grateful yet still somewhat in shock at Julie’s adeptness. Just as they were about to move on, the owner's attention was caught by the dollar coin they'd almost forgotten about. "Now this coin here," he said, picking up the Sacagawea dollar, his tone suddenly serious. "A 2000-P Cheerios Sacagawea Dollar Coin. This is where the real value lies," he announced.

Nick looked at the coin, which seemed just like any other Sacagawea dollar he had seen. “For this, I will give you twenty thousand," the owner declared.

Nick’s eyes widened in disbelief. "Sorry, what?" he stammered out, taken aback.

Julie was just as surprised as Nick, but her surprise quickly shifted back to negotiation mode. “One of these sold at auction for thirty-four thousand. If I am to sell it, I'll have auction fees, plus it will take time,” the owner explained, justifying his price.

Julie locked eyes with Nick, then turned back to the owner, her confidence unshaken. "Twenty-two," she stated firmly.

The owner let out a slight chuckle, impressed by her persistence. “You know, if I hadn’t said anything, chances are you would have used it to buy something... less significant,” he joked lightly.

Julie nodded, a playful glint in her eye. "But you did say something, and you told us it’s worth up to thirty-four thousand," she pointed out smartly.

The owner smirked, a sign of defeat. "Okay, twenty-two," he agreed. He counted out the cash and handed it to her. “If you find other items, please come back,” he added.

Nick and Julie both nodded, still somewhat stunned by their unexpected windfall as they walked out of the pawnshop. Once outside, Julie turned to Nick and, without warning, planted a kiss directly on his lips. “That was amazing,” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with excitement and joy. "Who the hell would have thought that coin was worth so much?"

Nick, still dazed not just from the kiss but from the entire exchange, could only shake his head in amazement. “So, motel room tonight?” Julie suggested, her voice playful yet tinged with a hint of earnestness.

Nick simply nodded, overwhelmed by the turn of events but profoundly grateful for Julie’s presence and negotiation skills. As they walked back to their car, their spirits high and their funds significantly bolstered, the day ahead seemed filled with new possibilities.

Nick slid into the driver's seat while Julie hopped into the passenger side with an energetic bounce, still buzzing from their recent success at the pawnshop. As Nick started the engine, he turned to Julie with a curious expression. "What the hell was that for?" he asked, his tone more inquisitive than upset.

"What was what?" Julie responded, feigning ignorance with a playful tilt of her head.

"You kissed me," Nick stated plainly, looking directly at her, trying to gauge her intentions.

Julie flashed a mischievous smile. "I did, and I might just do it again. You keep surprising me," she said, her voice tinged with admiration. "We're barely a day into our adventure, and you've already made more money than I have in the last year. This mission will succeed because of you, Nick. You're amazing. I'm convinced now more than ever that Atlantis is real, and it's because of you. I know you will find it, and I'll be right there by your side when you do. You’re going to be famous, and I’ll witness it all as it unfolds," she enthused, her eyes alight with excitement and belief in his quest.

Nick shook his head modestly, trying to deflect some of the praise. "You're the one who made that money," he pointed out. "You found that necklace, you drove the hard bargain. All I did was pick up a coin."

Julie leaned closer, her gaze intense yet playful. "But you chose to metal detect this morning, you found the coin, and you decided to take us to the pawnshop. That was all you, Nick," she insisted. Then, softening her voice, she asked, "Do you not want me to kiss you?"

Nick felt a sudden dryness in his mouth, his usual focus wavering under her intense gaze. "I need to focus on the mission," he whispered, his voice barely audible over the hum of the idling car engine.

Julie smiled again, her lips meeting his in a more deliberate kiss, lingering just a bit longer this time. "You're cute when you're determined," she whispered as she pulled back, leaving Nick slightly dazed in the aftermath of her affection.

After a moment of stunned silence, Nick finally spoke, his voice low and serious. "I can't do this," he murmured.

Julie looked at him, a hint of concern flickering across her face. "Can't do what?" she asked gently.

Nick met her gaze, his expression earnest. "If we do this together, it's as partners, full on fifty-fifty," he said firmly. "And if you insist on kissing me, I don't want it to be just because you want to flirt. Either we are partners in that too, or I'll drive you home, and half the money is yours."

Julie’s smile returned, understanding his need for clarity and respect in both their professional and personal interactions. "So, you want to be partners?" she asked, her voice soft yet hopeful.

Nick nodded, managing to swallow despite the dryness of his throat. "Yes," he affirmed.

"Okay," Julie agreed, her tone light yet sincere. "Okay," Nick repeated, a sense of relief washing over him.

Julie glanced at the clock, noting the time. "Let's go get something to eat. I’m hungry, and if we’re going to be partners, you need to take me on a breakfast... well, brunch date," she suggested, a playful spark in her eyes.

As Nick put the car in gear and pulled away from the pawnshop, a new understanding settled between them. The day had begun with the thrill of treasure hunting and had evolved into something deeper, a partnership forged not just in pursuit of Atlantis but in mutual respect and emerging affection. As they drove towards a local diner, the morning’s tension eased into comfortable anticipation of their new, shared path.

Nick and Julie arrived at a Denny's, the familiar signage promising a comforting, if predictable, dining experience. As they walked in, the warm aroma of coffee and frying bacon greeted them, blending with the soft hum of morning chatter. They found a table near a window, the morning light filtering through in lazy beams, and settled in. The waitress promptly came over, took their order—pancakes for Julie, an omelet for Nick—and sauntered off to the kitchen.

Once the waitress had departed, Nick turned to Julie, his mind still partly on the treasure hunt. “So, if we’re partners, where do you want to start?” he asked earnestly, eager to get back to their mission.

Julie flashed him a mischievous smile, her eyes twinkling with a blend of humor and seriousness. “First we eat, then we can go to a motel and get naked. We can start there,” she suggested boldly.

Nick almost choked on his coffee, sputtering as he hurriedly set the cup down. Once he stopped coughing and caught his breath, he looked at her, a mix of amusement and alarm in his expression. “Not what I meant, Julie. I was talking about finding this forgotten cave off the coast,” he clarified, trying to steer the conversation back to their adventure.

Julie’s smile softened, but her eyes remained intent. “No, Nick, we are partners. First, we seal the deal. I want the sexual tension broken first, and I want this, not as a tease, but because you impress me. Even now, when I just offered you sex, you still had your mind on the discoveries first. That’s what I respect,” she explained earnestly, reaching out to take his hand across the table.

“I’m not teasing you here, Nick. I do want this,” she whispered, her voice a sincere murmur that filled the small space between them.

Nick looked into her eyes, searching for any hint of deception. All he saw was sincerity and a bold affection. “So do you want me, and by want me I mean sex, kisses, the whole me, your new girlfriend?” she asked, her voice steady, her gaze unwavering.

Nick took a deep breath, the weight of her question settling in his chest. He nodded slowly, his voice barely audible as he replied, “I do.”

Julie’s smile widened triumphantly, her relief and happiness palpable. “Good, because I do too,” she affirmed warmly.

Just then, their food arrived, breaking the intensity of their exchange. The waitress placed their plates down with a cheerful clatter, oblivious to the significant agreement that had just been reached. Nick and Julie both turned their attention to the meal, but the undercurrent of excitement and the new dynamics of their relationship added a different flavor to the simple breakfast.

As they ate, the conversation lightened, focusing on immediate plans and logistics, interspersed with light teasing and laughter. However, the understanding they had reached hung between them like a promise—a new layer to their partnership that would change everything. After breakfast, they would head to a motel, not just as treasure hunters but as a couple embarking on a personal journey together, intertwined with their quest for Atlantis.

As they arrived at the motel, the modest facade of the building basked under the warm glow of the midday sun. Nick headed to the reception to check in while Julie, taking initiative, went around to the trunk of their car to gather their bags. The air was filled with the sound of traffic mingling with the occasional seagull cry, a reminder of their proximity to the ocean.

After obtaining the key, Nick walked back to where Julie was organizing their belongings. Together, they made their way to room 4, conveniently located on the ground floor, just a few steps from where their car was parked. The room's door was nonde***********, typical of a budget motel, with a number in faded paint indicating their temporary refuge.

Nick opened the door, stepping aside to let Julie enter first with her share of the luggage. He then took the heavier bags from her, the mundane act of carrying them inside feeling strangely significant under the weight of their new understanding.

No sooner had the door clicked shut behind them than Julie closed the gap between them. Her lips met his with an urgency that mirrored the beating of his heart. Surprised only for a moment, Nick quickly recovered, dropping the bags to the floor with a thud as he wrapped his arms around her, reciprocating her kiss with equal fervor.

"You are sure about this?" he managed to whisper as they momentarily broke apart, searching her eyes for any sign of hesitation.

Julie nodded emphatically, her eyes clear and resolute. "I want this, both professionally and personally. We will be partners," she affirmed, her voice steady yet soft, conveying both her passion for their joint venture and for their budding relationship.

Encouraged by her assurance, Nick kissed her again. This time, he held no reservations, allowing his actions to speak fully of his commitment to both their shared goals and their personal connection. The kiss deepened, rooted in the mutual respect and attraction that had been building between them since their journey began.

Their surroundings, the modest room with its simple furnishings and the distant sound of the ocean, faded into the background as they focused solely on each other.

Nick gently caressed Julie's cheek as she tugged impatiently at his shirt, her eyes shining with desire as she gazed into his. The motel room seemed to shrink around them, the walls closing in on this moment, this connection they shared. The air was thick with anticipation, the electricity between them crackling like static. As she stepped back, never taking her lips from his, they both stumbled backwards until they landed on the bed with a soft thud. The mattress springs creaked under their combined weight, but Nick barely registered the sound as he continued to kiss her, their tongues tangling in a dance that felt as intimate as it was passionate.

Her hair spilled out across the bed sheets, a cascade of red that seemed to catch the dim light from the nightstand, painting it with a warm, rosy glow. Nick had never seen anything more beautiful, more breathtaking than this moment with Julie. He cupped her face in his hands, his thumbs brushing across her full lips, feeling the softness of her skin against his calloused fingers. His heart raced, his blood pumping hot and fast through his veins as he looked into her eyes and saw the same raw emotion reflected there.

"By God, you are beautiful," he whispered, his voice hoarse with desire. She smiled, a wicked grin that made his heart skip a beat, and replied, "Shut up and take off your clothes." Her voice was filled with emotion, lust, and something more, something deeper that only he could see. Nick chuckled, feeling the warmth of her breath against his skin as she spoke. He pulled his shirt off slowly, revealing toned abs and the hint of muscle beneath, the smooth skin of his chest glistening with sweat. Julie licked her lips, her gaze fixed on his chest as he arched his back, offering her a tantalizing view.

The air grew thick with the scent of their arousal, a heady mix of sweat and desire that filled Nick's lungs with every breath he took. He leaned forward, his lips brushing against hers again, their tongues dancing together as they explored each other's mouths. Her hands traced lazy circles on his chest, moving lower, lower still, until they reached the waistband of his jeans. She tugged gently, urging him to help her get them off, and Nick obliged, quickly unbuttoning his jeans and pushing them down his hips. His erection sprang free, standing tall and proud against his stomach.

Julie gasped, her eyes widening as she took in the sight of him. "You're a lot bigger than I expected," she breathed, her voice shaking with awe. He grinned, feeling confident and powerful in this moment. He knew that she wanted this, that she needed it as much as he did. Julie was quick and threw off her clothing, and with one swift motion, he kicked off his jeans and positioned himself between her spread legs. Her hands slid up his thighs, her fingertips brushing against the sensitive skin of his inner thigh as she guided him closer.

He paused for a moment, looking down at her, taking in the sight of her beautiful face, her flushed cheeks, her parted lips. She was waiting, anticipating what he would do next, and he couldn't help but feel a surge of desire course through him. He leaned down, capturing her lips with his own once more, his tongue tangling with hers as he began to stroke himself against her wetness. Her hips arched upward, meeting his movements, urging him on.

The sound of their breathing grew ragged, their gasps and moans filling the air as they lost themselves in the heat of the moment. Nick's movements grew more urgent, more desperate, as he felt the familiar tightening in his groin. He could feel the head of his erection brushing against her, teasing her, and with one final thrust, he was inside her. Her body welcomed him, surrounding him with the soft, warm embrace of her flesh. He paused, his eyes locked with hers, feeling the connection between them grow even stronger.

"God, you feel so good," he whispered, his voice hoarse with desire. "So damn good." She arched her back off the bed, her nails digging into his shoulders as she met his thrusts, her body moving in perfect synchronization with his. The air grew thick with the scent of their sweat and desire, the sound of their skin slapping together filling the room.

Time seemed to stand still as they moved together, their bodies joined in a dance of passion and need. Nick felt himself growing closer and closer to the edge, the tension building inside him, the release imminent. He leaned down, capturing one of her breasts in his mouth, sucking hard on the nipple as he thrust deeper and deeper inside her. Julie cried out, her hips bucking wildly against him, her orgasm crashing over her in a wave of pure pleasure. Nick felt her walls squeeze tight around him, and with a final thrust, he followed her over the edge, his release filling her, their connection complete.

Their bodies trembled together, exhausted but sated, as they lay there in the afterglow of their passion. Nick rolled off her, collapsing onto his back beside her. She smiled at him, her eyes shining with contentment. "That was amazing," she whispered, her fingers trailing up his chest, tracing idle circles on his neck. "I knew you would be."

He reached up, cupping her face in his hands. "Partners?" He asked as he kissed her gently, their lips lingering together for a long moment. "Partners." She confirmed with a smile, her eyes softening with love. "I think I just fell in love with you, Nick." And then, as if the weight of those words had suddenly become too much, she buried her face in his chest, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. He held her close, stroking her hair, feeling the warmth of her body against his as he tried to comfort her. "Hey," he murmured, his voice soft. "It's okay. I've got you. I've got you now."

He didn't know what had happened to make her cry, but he knew that he would do whatever it took to make her feel better. He would protect her, love her, cherish her, for as long as she would let him. And as they lay there together in the darkness of that cheap motel room, he felt a sense of peace wash over him, a contentment that he hadn't known was possible. For the first time in a very long time, he finally felt like everything was going to be okay.
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