The next morning’s show went just about as badly as you might expect. No dumping of rain today; apparently Marvin was forecasting a good day for outside activities, so I got to pose in my stupid-looking walking shorts, oversized T-shirt, boonie hat, and zinc smeared white down my nose, while Cherise wore the cute little bikini and cheesecaked for the camera. One of us was happy. I got sand in my penny loafers, so it probably wasn’t me.
But the worst was yet to come.
Cherise slipped into a thick terrycloth robe as soon as she stepped off camera—her usual habit on the set—and we were talking about doing the mall when I felt a thick, sweaty hand slide around my waist. A little too high to qualify as waist territory, actually—we were getting into oh-I-don’t-think-so range.
Cherise looked startled, then grim, as Marvin’s other arm went around her.
Luckily, her robe was belted the wrong way for him to slide his fingers inside.
“Girls,” he said, and grinned, and squeezed. He’d definitely had his teeth whitened recently. They looked so white I was afraid they might glow in the dark. “Feel like a little breakfast? I’m buying!”
“Gee, boss, I have to fit into this bikini later,” Cherise said. She wriggled free of his hold. “Thanks for the offer.”
He didn’t let go of me quite so easily. “Whaddaya say, Jo? Few pancakes might do you good! Sweeten you up a little! Come on, my dime!”
I blinked, torn between indignation that he didn’t think I was sweet enough, and relief that he’d at least noticed my sour attitude. “Previous engagement,” I said. “Thanks, though. Some other time.” At least he wasn’t trying to drag us out for drinks, although I was pretty sure that if it had been a little later in the day—like, say, noon—it would have been Mojitos all around at the Cuban bar, and an expectation of a three-way at his fabulous bachelor pad later.
Marvin managed to look both crushed and lecherous at the same time. “Okay, doll. You girls go get your beauty sleep. Not that you need it!”
He was up to something. I gave him the flinty eye as he walked away, whistling a jaunty tune. Cherise shook her head, and preceded me off the set and into the changing room. She had to shower off body makeup; I just had to scrub off the zinc oxide and try to get my hair to do something that didn’t look as if I was trying to take Best of Breed at the Purina Cup.
I finished first, and yelled into the showers, “Meet you outside!”
“Fifteen minutes!” Cherise was deep into conditioning territory. I navigated the tunnel-like hallways of the television station, avoiding harried interns and squinty-eyed techs, hid from the news director, and managed to get through the back door without being stopped to help out with anything that wasn’t my job.
I walked over to the tiny lunch area, complete with palm trees, bolted-down picnic table, and overflowing trash container nobody seemed to remember to empty. Not exactly paradise, but it served, at times. I sat down on the cool metal bench, rested my elbows on the table, and watched the morning arrive.
Another lovely sunrise. Wispy clouds out to sea that glowed orange and gold; the ocean glittered dark blue, flecked with white foam. The sky shaded from turquoise in the east to indigo in the west, and a few brave stars were still glimmering through the dawn. A warm ocean breeze that slid over my exposed skin like silk.
It was a lovely way to pass a few minutes. I didn’t do this nearly enough, just sitting, waiting, listening to the whispers of the world.
As I drifted up there I began to feel something inside me start to resonate.
Liquid light. A cell-deep hum. A deeply intimate feeling of coming home.
I had company again. The good kind, this time.
Down in the real world, warm fingers stroked my hair, and up on the aetheric I saw a white, sparkling flare of power, like a ghost.
The tense curls of my hair relaxed, and David’s fingers dragged slowly through it, straightening it into a glossy black sheet of silk that fell heavily around my shoulders.
I turned. David was worth the resulting skipped heartbeat and raised pulse level on a visual level alone—smooth golden skin, dark auburn hair that glittered with red highlights in the sun, lickable lips, and eyes of an impossible bronze color behind a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. He was back in his usual uniform: blue jeans, a comfortably faded cotton shirt, an antique ankle-length olive coat.
David didn’t look like a Djinn, most of the time. At least, not most people’s idea of one, since that included pantaloons, loopy earrings, and bare, rippling chests. Not that his chest, when bare, didn’t ripple satisfactorily. Far from it …
“I thought you were resting,” I said, to get my mind off of the image of him, shirtless. I tried to make it sound stern, but he made it difficult when he leaned into my space. He slipped his fingers through my magically straightened hair, tilted my head back, and came very close to kissing me.
And, teasingly, didn’t. Warm, soft lips just barely brushing mine.
“It’s been too long,” he said. “I want to stay with you for a while.”
My pulse jumped into high gear. I knew he could hear it. Feel it through the brush of our mouths. I’d left him alone in the bottle for more than a month, hoping he’d be stronger for it, although I hadn’t capped the bottle and sealed him inside. I just… couldn’t bear to do that. It was too much like prison.
“You’re sure?” I asked. My voice didn’t sound too steady. It sounded breathless with excitement, actually.
“Just say the word.”
“The one you didn’t learn from your mother.” He made a low humming sound at the back of his throat, not quite a growl, not quite a laugh. I could almost forget how fragile he was at the moment. My body wanted to forget, but then, it had Attention Deficit Disorder, big-time.
“Are you—” I hated to ask it—it was like asking someone with cancer how the treatments were going. “David, be straight with me. Really. Are you feeling better? Are you strong enough to—to do this?”
Because David had, since I’d met him, been through even more than I had. He’d fought demons and split himself in two to give me life when I died, and he’d allowed an Ifrit—a kind of Djinn vampire—to drain him nearly dry. He wasn’t really healed from any of that.
Worse, I wasn’t sure he could really heal. Jonathan, high muckety-muck of the Djinn world, hadn’t been all that clear.
But today, he looked almost… normal. Maybe I’d been right. Maybe time healed all Djinn wounds.
He smiled. At close range, that was a deadly weapon. “Don’t worry. I’m strong enough to spend a little time with you,” he said. His eyebrows—fabulously expressive, those eyebrows—canted upward. “Unless, of course, you have a date?”
Right on cue, the back dock door banged open, and Cherise began flip-flopping down the steps to the parking lot. I looked over David’s shoulder and expected him to mist away—like Djinn usually did—but he just turned to take a look as well. Which meant that he’d decided not to leave, but just to disguise himself with a minor use of his powers, a don’t-see-me kind of magic that would direct Cherise’s attention away from him…
“Whoa! Who’s the hottie, Jo?” Cherise asked, focused directly on David. She came to a hard stop, wiggling her tanned toes in the designer flip-flops. Those bright blue eyes swept him head to toe, narrowed, and sparkled. “My, my, my. Holding out on me. Bad friend. No biscuit.”
It was possible that David was just in the mood to be part of the human world for a while. He did that, sometimes; that was how I’d met him. It had taken me days to figure out that he wasn’t entirely human, but in my defense, I was just a little distracted at the time with people trying to kill me.
What I was afraid of, though, was that David was visible to Cherise because he was too weak to magic himself out of being seen.