“Jo?” His voice was velvet, with a slightly frayed edge that rasped like a purr.
“Maybe you’d better let me do it.”
I held the ring up. He took it from my fingers and leaned around me to fit the key in the lock and turn it.
Which shouldn’t have seemed so suggestive, but maybe that was a combination of my boiling hormones and the heat of his body pressed against my back. Solid summer-warm flesh, hard in all the right places.
The door clicked open. I moved inside, flicked on soft, diffuse overhead lighting, and kicked off my shoes and dropped my purse.
He was behind me again, and this time there wasn’t any holding back for the neighbors. His hands went right around my waist and pulled me against him, and I turned my head to look back at him.
Depthless black in his pupils, and the irises of his eyes were smoking-hot copper.
“I need you,” he said, and moved my hair out of the way. His mouth found the side of my neck, licking and sucking, so fierce that it was right on the skin-thin border between pain and pleasure. His hands slid up to skim lightly over my breasts. “I need you.”
“I—wait, David, I don’t—are you sure you’re—” Feeling up to this was a straight line waiting to happen. “—strong enough for—”
“You give me strength.” His mouth was doing absurd things to my self-control.
“You give me life.” He murmured it against that incredibly sensitive spot just at the base of my ear. “You give me peace.”
Which might have been the sexiest thing any man—or male Djinn—had ever said to me in my life.
“We going to talk all day?” I asked breathlessly, and felt him laugh. Not a nice laugh, and there wasn’t much amusement in it, either. It was the kind of deep, rippling chuckle you might hear from the devil right before he let you see the fine print of your contract on that condo in Aruba, and dear God, it made my spine turn to water.
“That all depends on you,” he said, and the hands reversed course, moved in and down. Demanding. Skimming up the thin fabric of my skirt in handfuls while he pulled me back hard against him in the same motion. “Are you in the mood to have a nice, long chat? Have some tea and cookies?”
It was not what I wanted to do with my mouth.
We fell onto the bed with a bouncing jolt. I didn’t need to undress him; where my hands landed, his clothes just misted away to reveal an incredibly beautiful expanse of flawless golden skin. His eyes turned vague, half-lidded, as I stroked my fingers over his chest and down. His muscles tensed underneath them, corded cable.
He rolled us over, his weight balanced on top of me. I couldn’t stop an involuntary arch in my back, and once I saw the answering glitter in his eyes I kept moving my hips. He moved back. Long, slow, hot torture.
“Yes,” I whispered.
He kissed me. Not romantic, this time. Demanding. Driven by something I didn’t fully understand. I’d never seen him like this before, full of a kind of frantic hunger, as if he wanted to consume me, possess me.
This wasn’t equal. It couldn’t be equal, because I still held his bottle, and I’d claimed him. It was a master-slave relationship, no matter how nice the master, how willing the slave. It bothered me.
Just at this moment, I wondered if it bothered him, too.
He was too weak. If I set him free, he’d fade into smoke and hunger. Lose himself.
I couldn’t let that happen. Right or wrong, I couldn’t let it happen.
I lay awake, later, curled against his warmth as he drew lazy magical patterns on my back. They must have been magical. Every place his hand traveled left pools of pulsing silver light inside of me. Parts of my body ached. Other parts tingled and burned. There was a bright, sun-hot throb on my neck, and another several on the insides of my thighs, and I felt as if I’d been completely, breathtakingly destroyed. If that wasn’t being totally possessed, I couldn’t imagine how much more I could take without shattering.
His hand glided down to the small of my back and stayed there for a couple of beats, and I felt a very, very small stirring inside.
I turned my head and looked at him. He didn’t meet my eyes.
“We need to talk,” I said.
“I don’t understand how this is supposed to work.” I rolled over, took his hand, and placed it over my womb.
And we both felt the stirring inside. His eyes flared, then went dark.
“It’s been three months,” I said. “Nothing’s changed.”
“You’re not—” He stopped, shook his head, and those long, gorgeous fingers stroked gently over my skin. Caressing me, but caressing inside me, too. “It’s hard to explain.”
“But I’m pregnant. Right?”
“That’s what’s hard to explain. She won’t—grow like a human child. She’s like a seed, waiting for the sun. Just… waiting.”
“For how long?”
He didn’t answer that one. “I should have asked you first,” he said, and his hand moved again, drawing silver.
“It would have been polite, yeah.”
“I did it to protect you.”
“I know.” At the time, it had been the only way he had known to ensure I’d survive a trip to Las Vegas; and facing down the one Djinn he couldn’t protect me from—his best friend, Jonathan. And it had worked, too. Jonathan hadn’t killed me. He’d even shown some signs of thinking I was a little better than pond scum, which was a huge improvement. “Tell me how this is supposed to happen, then.”
He shook his head again, David-speak for I don’t want to talk about it. I waited him out, watching his face. He finally said, “It may not happen at all. Djinn children are rare. Even then, they’re only born to two Djinn. A Djinn and a mortal… it’s not… She exists inside you as a potential, but—she may never survive.”
“Jonathan said she could only be born if you die.”
His eyes slowly came up to meet mine. “That’s… probably true. We come from death, not life.”
Djinn were very hard to kill, but David was fragile. When he made me a Djinn, he’d fractured something vital inside of him into two pieces, one of which he’d given me to keep me alive. Even when I’d been granted the gift of humanity again, that root-deep fracture had remained. And then he’d gotten in the way of an Ifrit, who drained him nearly to death.
And now he was hanging onto the fragile thread between life and that kind of living death, of losing himself. If he stayed outside of his bottle for too long, or used too much power, he’d become an Ifrit, a thing of ice and shadow. A thing bent only on feeding on others.
As if he’d followed my thought, his hand on my back went still. I felt a shudder run through him, and his eyes dimmed just a little.
“David?” I sat up. He eased back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
“I shouldn’t have done this to you,” he said. “I should never have done any of this to you. You deserve—”
“Don’t do this to yourself. None of it is your fault.”
He closed his eyes. He looked suddenly very, very tired. Human. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No! God, no.” I put my hand on his chest, then my head. My hair spilled dark over his skin. “Well, not any more than I wanted you to, anyway.”
“I’m afraid I will,” he said. His voice sounded distant, worn smooth by exhaustion. “No, I know I will; I can sense it.” His eyes opened, and the last embers of copper flared in orange swirls. “You can’t let me. I mean it, Jo. You have to have defenses against me. You have to learn…”
The fire was cooling under his skin, the light in him going out. “I have to go now,” he said. “I love you.”
I kissed him, quickly, lovingly, and said, “I love you, too. Go back in the bottle now.”
I felt the sudden indrawn breath of his passing, sank suddenly down in the welter of disordered sheets, and when I opened my eyes again he was gone.
Nothing left but an indentation in the pillows.
I turned over, slid open the nightstand drawer, and took his bottle out of its protective zippered case lined with gray foam.