Authors: Jenny Schwartz
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
She was so hot.
“Take it off,” he said.
She knelt up and grabbed the hem of her shirt to pull it over her head.
The cool, dry library air kissed her skin.
“Oh, silverfish and mould.” Sanity made a sharp, painful return. She pulled her shirt down fast and scrambled off the djinni.
She’d let a stranger take her to orgasm, damn near take her, and she didn’t even know his name. She’d come to the library for a reason and been caught and now—
He caught her arm before she could gather her thoughts and dematerialise. “You’re not going anywhere, angel. We have unfinished business.”
Betrayingly, she glanced down at the proof of his statement.
His jeans bulged magnificently.
“That too.” He grinned. “But I was referring to the constraints of my guard order. I have to present you to Vince. Unless you want to shout for help?”
“For help?” She was bemused by his nearness and the wry curve of his mouth. Such a beautiful mouth, clever, seductive. She touched her tongue to her lips, trying to stop their tingle.
“I’m good, angel, but I can’t fight off a legion of angels. If you call for help, you’ll be rescued before I wake Vince.”
Well, at least one of them was thinking clearly.
She contemplated her options while he adjusted her beret. It was distracting to feel deft fingers tucking up her dishevelled hair. Nonetheless, she tried to concentrate.
If she called for help she’d get it, but her angelic rescuers would see the evidence of her embarrassing position. She would be labelled a rogue archivist and condemned to recording duties for a century, and she would have failed.
In addition, anyone seeing her now would know she’d been rolling on the sofa with a djinni. He might be the definition of desire, but he’d be the final nail in the destruction of her reputation.
On the other hand, if she didn’t call for help and went along with the djinni to Vince, she could be alert for a moment of distraction. One moment was all she’d need to dematerialise and escape to heaven’s security. The djinni himself had said he couldn’t follow her to heaven.
She felt a twinge of regret that she wouldn’t see him again but squashed it. He was no good for her self-control. Even now his fingers were tracing the outline of her ear, generating liquefying heat—and that was an innocent touch.
No, there was no question about her best option.
“If you’re going to introduce me to Vince, my name’s Sara.”
The djinni smiled. His hands dropped from her hair to her shoulders and he kissed her on both cheeks. “My name is Filip.” He kissed her on the mouth, just a fleeting reminder of his flavour and excitement. “Let us hope Vince has his dentures in.”
Vince didn’t wear dentures. He was in his late fifties, a square bull of a man with iron-grey hair ruffled now from sleep. There was nothing sleepy about his eyes. He woke to full alertness, as hunters did.
Belatedly Sara wished she’d spent just a smidgin more time researching him and not just his library. She’d been so intent on her adventure she hadn’t stopped to think.
“An angel?” Vince knotted his dressing gown cord while he studied Sara. His suspicious gaze flicked to Filip. “She doesn’t have wings.”
“You said you caught her in the library?” Vince went back to studying Sara.
“Her second visit.”
Sara breathed carefully, controlling her muscles so an involuntary movement didn’t reveal her feelings. Vince Ablett intimidated her.
Her hand tightened around Filip’s. He wasn’t intimidated by Vince. He looked tough, confident and amused. She was glad he hadn’t led her into Vince’s room with a manacle grip at her wrist. She’d have hated being presented like a slave girl. Instead, Filip held her hand like a lover.
But she couldn’t trust him, either. She flexed her fingers, loosening her clasp. She had to remember he was djinn.
Millennia ago Lilith, Adam’s first and unfaithful wife, had mated with demons. She’d produced seventy-seven offspring, all djinn. The djinn weren’t angels or demons, but they had the powers of both. Perhaps it was out of envy that Solomon bound them to the service of humans. Each was trapped in a bottle, released only to grant a human master’s three wishes.
Only one djinni had ever broken the curse and been freed from his bottle. It had required the human holding his bottle to relinquish their power over him by wishing him free. His name was Rafe, and he was her cousin’s husband. The other seventy-six djinn were still bound and all of them caused trouble when they could.
It was understandable. The djinn had been robbed of free will, bound before they’d had a chance to choose redemption. Sara could pity them. Their existence was a solitary limbo. When they had an opportunity, they wreaked havoc.
Just as Filip had wreaked chaos with her senses and common sense.
She swallowed, her mouth dry. Had she really just had her first orgasm in a stranger’s library?
“What do you want in my library?”
Sara jumped, but Vince couldn’t possibly know her guilt, and surely the djinni wouldn’t tell him about…about what they’d shared. She snuck a glance at Filip.
Humour lurked in his face. There was a hint of crinkle at the tanned corners of his eyes. His thumb stroked a hidden message against the soft skin of her palm.
She snapped her attention back to Vince. She could justify the knowledge she intended to steal because it would save a child’s life—if she was in time. But she would not share the stolen knowledge with Vince Ablett, drug lord, arms dealer and trafficker in people and jewels. That would be a true betrayal of the Archivist Guild rules.
She would not enrich evil.
Vince turned away.
Sara looked at Filip and tugged at her hand. Vince had lost interest or decided an angel was beyond even his powers of intimidation. She was free to go.
Filip ignored her. He was frowning at Vince.
“I have two wishes remaining.”
“Oh God,” Sara breathed.
The man had retrieved Filip’s djinni bottle from some secret niche. It curved comfortably in his hands, old blue glass, rare and beautiful. It was an obscene prison for Filip’s spirit. No one should have so much power over another person.
If Vince used his second wish to order Filip to compel her to answer his questions, then she would scream for help. Her pride was less important than freedom and decency, and preventing an evil man from profiting from angelic knowledge.
“To own an angel is a rare privilege.” Vince smiled. His square fingers stroked over the djinni bottle as his gaze stripped her. “I will enjoy it.”
Sara stared at the man who wanted to cage her and enjoy her as a possession to be gloated over. He was loathsome. Revulsion curdled into physical nausea.
She leaned closer to Filip and waited for him to explain how she could be rescued any time, thereby voiding any wish to hold her.
He smiled and stayed silent.
Outrage replaced revulsion as she realised this was a game to him.
was a game to him. Filip was using her to trick Vince into wasting a wish.
She stepped away from him.
His smile broadened. He flexed his arm and brought her back against his side.
“Snake,” she whispered. Proximity to his beautiful body wouldn’t seduce her a second time. Had he intended to exploit her the whole time he was kissing her, inciting her, watching her climax? She curled her fingers into a fist and slammed it into his flat stomach.
She hit solid muscle. He’d been ready for her and tensed his muscles. Damn him. Now her knuckles hurt.
“Violence, angel?” Filip rubbed his stomach and grinned at her.
“I wish—” Vince began.
His phone rang. Not the landline, but a cell phone on his night table. The ringtone made a shrill demand for attention, cutting through the tension and making Sara aware of the wider world and the darkness pressing against the uncurtained window.
“Keep her here,” Vince said and answered the phone. The blood drained from his face, then rushed back in an angry surge of red.
Angels had good hearing. So did djinn. Everyone in the bedroom heard the kidnapper’s words.
“I have your daughter, Vincent Ablett. Jay, speak to your father.”
“Dad, I’m scared. He—”
“My name is Baz Khan. I don’t expect you’ll remember it, Mr. Ablett. I was one of many Afghans who paid you to smuggle us into Australia. My wife and son drowned when your overcrowded, unfit boat sunk off the Indonesian coast. I lost my family, my future. I want you to suffer. I would enjoy killing your daughter. I have a camera to record it. You could hear her scream, see her bleed.”
“God in heaven,” Sara gasped.
Filip’s arm tightened like a vise around her.
“But I would enjoy killing you more, Mr. Ablett. Come to Melbourne. I will phone again at dawn. If you arrive at the location I specify within an hour, I will accept you in place of your daughter. If you try anything, Jay dies.”
The kidnapper disconnected and the only sound in the room was Vince’s harsh breathing. He dropped the cell phone onto the bed. “No.”
Oh, my God.
Sara stared at the father who could leave his daughter to die.
“Djinni, my second wish.” Vince’s hands strangled the old blue bottle. “Rescue my daughter, Jay. Bring her safely back here. Tonight. Then I’ll go after this Baz Khan.”
Sara breathed again.
The laconic acknowledgement of Vince’s wish was as Australian as Filip’s drawl. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was pressed against him and could feel his tension, Sara would have thought him relaxed.
Australians used the phrase all the time. No worries. They used it to deflect thanks, taking the place of a formal “you’re welcome.” But now, uttered in Filip’s deep voice, Sara heard the other reason behind “no worries.” The phrase acknowledged an order without recognising the other person’s right to command. For all that Vince held Filip’s djinni bottle, Filip would not recognise him as master.
But if Filip played tricks with Vince’s second wish—as he’d planned with her and her angelic rescuers—what would happen to the terrified girl, Jay? She had to have heard the threat to kill her slowly.
Sara frowned. Filip, Vince and Baz Khan. Three powerful men and a terrified girl. Which of them—
any of them—put the girl first?
Vince snatched up the landline phone and snarled orders, preparing for what sounded like all-out war against Baz Khan. First a plane to take him to Melbourne, then arrangements for hired men, armed.
“You still here?” Vince paused to glare at Filip, who smiled.
“No.” He dematerialised, taking Sara with him.
She blinked and they were back in the library. In her dizziness, she leaned a tad against Filip and he took advantage of her weakness to wrap his arms around her. The world steadied and she breathed in the scent of clean male skin.
She had to remember he was a snake. She tried to wriggle away and his arms tightened. Her breasts were crushed against his chest.
“You have two choices, angel.” His breath stirred her hair. “I’m bound to guard Vince’s library, so before I leave to rescue Jay either you swear not to take anything from here nor to trespass again, or I contact this Michael you were talking about and report your transgressions. Heaven will know how to deal with you. Though I expect they’ll lack my imagination. When I thought the library trespasser was a demon, I prepared a trap you wouldn’t enjoy at all. Camel dung.”
“I don’t like either choice.” She flattened her hands against his chest and tried to lever some space between them. “And you’ve forgotten one.”
He looked wary.
She felt a momentary satisfaction. Wariness meant respect. She wanted him to respect her.
“I’m coming with you, Filip. I’m going to make sure you rescue Jay.” She gave up trying to push him away and settled for tapping him minatorily. She hoped she looked tough, resolute and competent.
Filip flicked her cheek. “Don’t you trust me, angel?”
“Not as far as I can throw you.”
Filip smiled. Sara was pure delight. She was ridiculously cute in her black clothes, clearly her romantic conception of the dress code for midnight thefts. Her beret had slid tipsily over one ear, and her green eyes sparked, daring him to refuse her company. Or was that stewardship?
She wanted him to save Jay, and in fact, he would. Although he hadn’t seen the girl in years, he remembered her skinny tomboy limbs, the rare smile and her care for the horses and dogs at Vince’s country property. Jay would be eighteen now, fancying herself a woman. Still she didn’t deserve to suffer the cost of her father’s crimes.
He’d follow the cell phone signal back to where Jay was being held, pull her out, then see if he could steal some time with Sara.
For an angel, the red-haired darling was dynamite. The trick was to keep her off balance. He didn’t think she’d have tumbled with him on the chesterfield if he’d allowed her time to think. In fact, she had the serious expression of someone who thought too much.
So he grinned at her. “Sure. You can tag along.”
She simmered. “You are—”
“Sexy? Handsome? Amusing?” He heard her snort as he clasped her hand and whisked them both out of the house and down to the billabong.
He felt better outside the house with the freedom of the stars above him. Centuries stuck in a glass bottle would do that to a man.
They rematerialised on the jumble of rocks at the northern edge of the water. Between two ghost gums he could see the Southern Cross. The leaves rustled in the night wind. The billabong caught the moonlight and reflected it back. It was a glorious place, a sanity restorer.
Sara teetered at the edge of the rocks and he pulled her to safety.
“You are annoying.”
He’d been called worse.
Hell, what’s the point of temptation if you don’t succumb?
He took her mouth and tasted again the fire and sweetness, the potent femininity that was Sara.
He’d have to work on his timing because the angel in his arms wasn’t in a kissing mood. She struggled, kicked and tried to bite him.
The splash as they fell into the billabong sent the water up in a spray of crystal light. The water wasn’t deep and he gained his footing easily and laughed.
She swung a pretty amateur punch. He swayed sideways, avoiding it, and hauled her close as she overbalanced.
The breeze was cool against his wet skin, but Sara was hot. Her breasts squashed against him, nipples puckered under wet silk. She’d lost her beret, and he helped her lose the pins that constrained her red hair. Heavy with water, it tumbled down her back. Dry, it would be a cloak around them as they made love. Of course, that would mean she had to be on top. He could handle the loss of control.
“Don’t you dare kiss me.” She was panting with passion.
Anger, not lust, Filip recognised ruefully.
“We have to rescue Jay.” She prodded his chest.
“There’s plenty of time. We have all night.”
Wrong answer. Fury erupted from Sara, volcanic, tinged with disillusion and contempt.
“You’d leave a girl with the man who threatened to kill her? You’d leave her terrified while you canoodled?”
He released her, putting distance between them. “I’m a djinni not a guardian angel. It’s your mistake if you expect anything else.”
“Like compassion, honour.” She spared him a final glare before stalking out of the billabong. In the shadows of the ghost gums, she wrung out her hair and wound it in a schoolteacher’s bun. She used a little angel magic to change the wet black clothes that clung to her curves into dry sensible jeans and a cotton sweater. Cute black sneakers became sturdy boots.
All the better for kicking my shins.
Filip made his own costume adjustment—clean jeans, a white T-shirt and comfortable hiking sandals. He was man enough to wear sandals.
He looked up at the sky. Some of the stars were satellites, orbiting the earth and bouncing signals. He tuned in as easily as a million-dollar receiver.
“Don’t just stand there.” Sara blazed in front of him, hands on hips and her mouth tight. An avenging angel. “We have to rescue Jay.”
“Do you know where she is?”
Sara stopped, disconcerted. She recovered. “I can return to heaven and search the Records.”
“No need. I’m tracking her through cell-phone coverage.”
“Standing here?” Her anger shifted into uncertainty and disbelief.
“Hmm.” Jay was being held in Melbourne. He had the suburb and he’d narrow it further when he reached the southern city. He brought his attention fully back to Sara. “I’ve grown familiar with human communication technologies. I came over to Australia in the 1800s with a runaway younger son who joined the Afghan cameleers. He was looking for adventure. I was interested in a new world. The Afghan cameleers trekked the outback, helping to build the Overland Telegraph. Telegrams gave way to telephones, copper wires to fibre optics, and then to satellite communications. I adjusted. Information is power.”