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If that was the case, I couldn’t see any sign of it in his body language. He looked relaxed, open, and friendly.

“Hi. My name’s David,” he said, and held out his hand. Cherise took it and made the handshake look way too intimate.

I can be a friend. A really, really close friend.” She pursed shiny, Maybelline-enhanced lips, and sent me a pleading look as she leaned into his personal space. “So, when you get tired of him, can I have him?”


“Trade you a date with Johnny Depp.”

“Cherise, you don’t have a date with Johnny Depp.”

She sniffed. “Well, I could. If I wanted. So I suppose the arrival of Mr. Hottie means we’re not going shopping.”

“Would you go shopping if he showed up for you?”

“You’re kidding, right? I would have shopping surgically removed from my system. And you know how much of a commitment that is for me.” Cherise gave me a preoccupied kind of smile, tearing her attention away from David for about point oh two seconds, and finally heaved a theatrical sigh. “I suppose I’ll just have to go abuse my credit rating all by myself. Although I plan to shop heavily, and it would be handy to have some nice, strong man to carry my—”

“Go,” I said. She lifted an elegantly sculpted shoulder and flip-flopped off toward her red convertible, hips swaying, alien tattoo doing a funky hula to the motion. Yeah. She’d be carrying her own bags, sure. When hell opened a hockey rink.

“Did I interrupt something?” David asked, and moved back into kissing distance again. “I know how seriously you take a mall visit. Wouldn’t want to stand in your way.”

He was teasing me. I leaned in, too, brushed his lips with mine, and stared deep into his burning bronze eyes. Teasing could go both ways.

His pupils widened and drank me in.

“The mall doesn’t open until ten,” I whispered into his parted lips. “Plenty of time.”

His kiss took control and dissolved me into sparkles and tingles and a massive surge of heat. Damp, urgent, passionate lips, demanding my full attention. I felt myself collapsing against him, wanting badly to be horizontal somewhere with a lockable door. Jesus, he made my whole body shake.

“I missed you,” he said, and his voice had gone low and rough, hiding in the back of his throat. His thumbs caressed my cheekbones, drawing lines of heat like tattoos.

“Show me.”

“Right here?” He looked pointedly down at the gravel, asphalt, and thin grass.

“Looks uncomfortable. Then again, I remember how much you like public displays of affection.”


Those eyebrows went up again, dangerously high. His smile turned dark. “Oh, you really don’t want to know how true that is.”

I felt a tiny little tremor inside. Sometimes, David could be like a pet tiger—glorious and terrible. He wasn’t just a sweet-natured, nice, agreeable guy, although he was certainly capable of being that. It was just that he was capable of anything. Everything. Djinn weren’t fluffy little bunnies you kept as pets, they were dangerous. David was gentle with me, I knew that. But sometimes, occasionally, I would see the vast, dark depths underneath, and I’d get dizzy and breathless.

And hot. Dear God. Spontaneous-combustion hot.

He knew, of course. I saw it flash in his eyes.

I said, “I’m not afraid, you know.”

His hands—everything about him—went still. Wind brushed over us with curious hands, ruffling my hair, belling his coat. It tasted of ocean. Palm trees rustled and shook out their fronds over our heads.

“Maybe you should be. You don’t know enough about me.”

Well, he was right. He’d live for eons. He’d seen human civilizations rise and fall. I barely knew a fraction of who David was, and what he was.

Sometimes I just forgot.

“Try me,” I said. Cherise’s glitter-bright flirting had reminded me, with a chill, that I wasn’t some sweet young girl anymore, and next thing I knew I’d be buying in the Women’s World section where dowdy clothes go to die. Reading Modern Maturity. Learning to tat lace and make scrapple. I wanted to know David.

I wanted this to be something bigger and deeper and forever, or as far as my forever could go. “If we’re going to stay together, then you can’t just show me your good side, you know. And I mean it. I’m not afraid.”

He looked uncommonly solemn, and he didn’t blink. There was a hint of the tiger in those eyes again. “I don’t think you understand what you’re saying.”

I heaved out a sigh. “Of course I don’t understand. Everything about the Djinn is one big, dark, booga-booga secret, and just because I’ve been one doesn’t mean I got the operating manual—”

He stilled my lips with his, in a damp, slow, breathless kiss. His hands slid up into my hair, stroking those achingly sensitive places behind my ears, at the nape of my neck… I lost my train of thought.

Which made me jump tracks to another one when he let me up for breath. “We need to get you home.” What that really meant was, to put him back in his bottle—yes, Djinn really had bottles, glass ones; they had to be glass and they had to come with stoppers or a way to seal them, no exceptions. The worst case I’d ever seen had been a soap-bubble thin ornamental glass perfume bottle; it was stored in the Wardens Association vault in the U.N. Building in New York, because that thing would shatter if you so much as gave it a hard look.

David’s was a somewhat sturdy ornamental kitchen bottle, the blue-glass fancy kind that store flavored oils and decorative grains. I kept it in a very safe place, right in my nightstand drawer next to oils, lotions, and other things I wouldn’t want casual visitors to inventory.

Which inevitably led to thoughts of my bed, soft sheets, cool soft ocean breezes sighing over my skin…

“Yes. Let’s go home.” His hands slid over my shoulders, stroked down my arms, and lingered on my hands before letting me go. The heat from him stayed on my skin. Afterimages of light.

My car was parked over in the far corner of the lot, away from casual door dings. She was a midnight blue Dodge Viper, and I loved her dearly enough for her to qualify as my second-favorite-ever ride. The first-place winner had been a Mustang, also midnight blue, named Delilah, who had gotten scrapped around the time I met David, as if I had to give up one really lovely thing for another.

David took the shotgun seat, and I prowled Mona through the morning traffic toward my apartment. I’d been really, really lucky when I moved—had to move, thanks to the overzealous actions of some real estate people, who thought that just because I’d had a funeral I’d broken my lease—and I’d ended up with a beachfront second-floor sea view. All of my furniture was secondhand, and nothing matched, but the bed was comfortable and the balcony was to die for.

The bed was the only thing that mattered right now.

I must have parked, but that part was a blur. Then stairs, and then we were in the hall and I was hunting for my key. It was after morning commute time for most of my neighbors, and the place was nearly silent, except for the distant, muted hum of a TV somewhere down near the corner. Probably Mrs. Appel; she worked nights and liked to wind down to a little HBO before nap time.

David came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders, then let them drift down my sides, stroking. Gentle, slow moves. Anyone watching wouldn’t have found it terrifically sexual—we weren’t exactly humping in the hall—but I had to brace my hands on the door and close my eyes. There was something magic about his hands, about the slow, deliberate way he used them. They followed the line of my shoulders, circled my arms, and moved all the way down to my wrists.

He moved closer until he pressed against me like a second skin. I tried to fit the key into the lock again. Missed. My hands were shaking.