I started to put the stopper in, but then hesitated. At some very deep level, he was still part of me, drawing on the magic I possessed; putting the stopper in the bottle meant cutting that connection, and although he hadn’t said so, I suspected that the more I could give him, the better. I’d have opened my magical veins if it could have made him better. Hell, I wasn’t in the Wardens anymore; I wasn’t directing the weather or saving lives. I was just a poverty-level member of the vast, unwashed paid labor force.
I needed him for completely different reasons these days than making miracles happen for other people.
I sank back on the pillows with a sigh. I didn’t actually know if he was recovering, or, if he was, how quickly; I’d need the opinion of another Djinn to find out, but then, none of the Djinn had been around to visit since I’d left the Wardens. They were staying clear. I figured Jonathan had something to do with it. The last thing he’d said to me, in a flat, angry monotone, had been, You broke him, you fix him. The unspoken or else had been daunting.
Jonathan hadn’t dropped by since I’d returned to Florida, but with the kinds of powers he possessed, he hardly needed to. He was probably back in his house, watching me through his big plate-glass picture window and sipping magically imported beer.
Probably watching me right now.
I rolled over on my back, flipped the bird at the ceiling.
“Hope you enjoyed the show,” I said. “No encores.”
No reaction. Which was no doubt for the best.
I fell asleep with the bottle beside me, to the steady, pounding whisper of the surf down on the beach.
I catapulted out of bed two hours later to a banging on the apartment door. I was halfway to the door before I realized I was stark naked. Back to the bedroom to throw on a floor-length silk robe, belted in front, and jam my feet into slippers.
“Coming!” I yelled, and hustled back as the knocking continued to thunder. I started to rip the door open, then hesitated and used the peephole.
It took me about ten seconds—long, full ones—to realize who I was looking at, because she didn’t look like herself at all.
Oh. My. God.
I unlocked the dead bolt and flung the door wide. “Sarah?”
My sister was standing there. My sister from California, my married, nonmagical sister who, the last time I’d seen her, had been wearing the best of Rodeo Drive and sporting a designer haircut with fabulous highlights. Sarah had been one of those annoying girls who’d spent all her time scheming to catch a rich man, and … amazingly… had actually done it. I hadn’t expected her to be happy, but I had expected her to hang on to her French millionaire husband with both hands and emotional superglue.
Lots had obviously changed. Sarah was wearing baggy, wrinkled khaki shorts and an oversized Sunshine State T-shirt; the haircut had grown into an unkempt shag, and the remaining, faded highlights looked cheap as tinsel. No makeup. And no socks with her battered running shoes.
“Let me in,” she said. She sounded tired. With no will of my own I stepped back, and she came in, dragging a suitcase behind her.
The suitcase—battered, ugly, and bargain-basement—gave me a bad, bad feeling.
“I thought you were in LA,” I said slowly. The door was still open, and I reluctantly shut and locked it. There went my last chance for a decent escape. I tried for a pleasant interpretation. “Missed me, huh?”
She plumped down on my secondhand couch in an uncoordinated sprawl, staring down at her limp hands, which hadn’t seen a manicure in weeks. My sister was a good-looking woman—walnut brown hair, blue eyes, fine, soft skin she’d worked hard to keep supple—but just now she looked her age. Wrinkles. My God. Sarah had wrinkles. And she hadn’t been to a plastic surgeon and Botoxed them out of existence? Who are you and what have you done with my evil sibling?
“Chrêtien left me,” she said. “He left me for a personal trainer!”
I felt behind me, found a chair, and sank into it, staring at her.
“He divorced me,” she said. Her already-tense voice was rising like a flood tide. “And he enforced the prenup. Jo, he took the Jag!”
That came out as a true, raw wail of grief.
My sister—who’d always made me look like a piker when it came to composure, style, and taking care of herself—blubbered like a little girl. I jumped up and found some Kleenex, which she promptly used with enthusiasm, and fetched a trash can from the bathroom to catch the soggy remains. I was not picking those up.
Finally, she was blotched, swollen, red-nosed, and done crying—for a while—and gave me the rest of the tired, familiar story. Chrêtien and personal trainer Heather (Heather? Really?), meeting every Tuesday for a really intense private session. Sarah getting suspicious because his workout clothes never seemed overly worked out. Hiring a private eye to follow them. Dirty pictures.
Screaming confrontation. Chrêtien invoking the dire terms of the prenup, which had taken her house, her car, her bank account, and left her with her second car, an old Chrysler she’d let the maid use for errands.
And no place to live.
My once-rich sister was homeless.
And she was sitting on my couch with a suitcase, blubbering, looking at me with pleading, swollen eyes.
I silently returned the look, remembering all those childhood grievances. Sarah, yanking my hair when Mom wasn’t looking. Sarah, telling all my friends and enemies about my crush on Jimmy Paglisi. Sarah, stealing my first steady boyfriend out from under my nose. We weren’t close. We’d never been close. For one thing, we weren’t anything like the same. Sarah had been a professional woman… emphasis on the woman, not the professional. She’d set out to snare herself a millionaire, which she’d done, and to live the life she’d always wanted, and damn whoever had to suffer to get her there. She’d signed the prenup because, at the time, she’d thought she had Chrêtien completely beguiled and could get him to tear it up with enough honeyed compliments and blow jobs.
I could have told her—hell, I had told her—that Chrêtien was way too French for that to work.
Sarah was stranded on my couch: sniffling, humiliated, practically penniless. No marketable skills to speak of. No friends, because the kinds of country club friends Sarah had made all her life didn’t stick around after the platinum American Express got revoked.
She had nobody else. Nowhere to go.
There was nothing else I could say but, “Don’t worry. You can stay with me.”
Later, I would remember that and pound my head against the wall. It was the flickering warning light on a road where the bridge was out and, like an idiot, I just kept on driving.
Right into the storm.
I set about getting Sarah settled in my tiny spare room. She’d been weeping with gratitude right up until I heaved her suitcase onto the twin bed, but she stopped when she took a look around.
“Yes?” I asked sweetly, because I could see the words Where’s the rest of it? on the tip of her tongue.
She swallowed them—it must have choked her—and forced a trembling smile. “It’s great. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” I looked around, seeing it through her eyes. Her utility closet in California hadn’t been this small, I was certain. The furniture wasn’t exactly au courant—a rickety ’50s nightstand in grubby off-white French Provincial with a cockeyed drawer, a campus castoff bed too hard and lumpy for even college students. A scarred, ugly dresser of no particular pedigree, with missing drawer pulls and a cracked mirror, salvaged out of a Dumpster with the help of two semipro football players.
A real do-it-yourself nightmare.